SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) is beginning to sound like Candidate Schwarzenegger, hinting in interviews that he plans to run for re-election in 2006.
The Republican governor could announce his plans as soon as mid-September, around the state GOP convention and after the Legislature adjourns for the year. At the same time, he will be ramping up a campaign for three ballot initiatives set to go before voters in a Nov. 8 special election.
"I think he needs to do it for two good reasons," said Bill Whalen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who worked for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson (search). "It will invigorate the Republican base, which he sorely needs to do if he has any chance to win the special election. And it sends a positive message to the donor community that he's not going to cut and run."
Schwarzenegger has fooled political prognosticators before, and few can say for certain what his announcement will be.
Two years ago he surprised nearly everyone, including many of his own advisers, when he announced on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" that he would run to replace Gov. Gray Davis (search) in the state's historic recall election.
Since taking office in late 2003, Schwarzenegger has been vague about whether he would seek a second term. But recently, amid sagging poll numbers and little public support for his reform initiatives, the governor has begun signaling he won't give up on the job anytime soon.
"I am not here for the short run. I am a follow-through guy," he told Sacramento radio host Tom Sullivan in a call-in program last week.
Later, he told a television reporter he might agree soon to an interview about his re-election plans.
"I don't walk away from things that I think are unfinished," Schwarzenegger told KCRA-TV in Sacramento.
The hints of an impending announcement come as the Hollywood star and former body building champion struggles to burnish his image after months of criticism from labor unions and Democratic activists. Since launching his "year of reform" in January, he has been dogged by protesters, denounced in television spots and criticized for his fundraising practices.
His decision to skip next week's opening of the University of California, Merced, the first new UC campus in 40 years, has only added to the perception that the governor is under siege.
Still, GOP strategists said they have been urging Schwarzenegger for months to announce his re-election plans — in part for the sake of the ballot initiatives.
Without an assurance that the governor wants to remain in office, state Republican officials said they fear he will have a hard time generating support for implementing a state spending cap, changing the way legislative districts are drawn and making teachers work longer to get off probation.
Democrats contended the initiatives are little more than a Republican power grab.
"This special election is about Arnold Schwarzenegger's agenda, and it's the platform for his re-election," said state Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat planning to run for governor next year.