SAN DIEGO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) confirmed an open secret Friday, telling supporters that he's running for re-election next year — an early announcement designed to re-energize his sagging political momentum with the vitality that swept him into office.
"I'm going to follow through with this here. I'm not in there for three years. I originally got into this because to finish the job. I'm in there for seven years," he told an enthusiastic crowd of about 200 invited guests. "Yes, I will run for governor."
Schwarzenegger has hinted as much for weeks, saying as recently as Wednesday that he wanted to stay and fix the "broken system" of state government. Privately, advisers have urged the embattled Republican governor to declare for months, though the election isn't until November 2006, three years after he arrived in Sacramento following the historic recall of Gray Davis (search).
The announcement was timed to coincide with the state Republican convention in Anaheim, which Schwarzenegger will address Saturday afternoon.
The governor already is campaigning for several "reform" ballot initiatives that voters will decide in the special election he called. Voters haven't taken to his message, fundraising is nowhere near the hoped-for $50 million — and Republican strategists warned that without a promise to seek a second term, Schwarzenegger won't generate the enthusiasm he needs to succeed against opposition from Democrats and their labor union allies.
Schwarzenegger wants to establish a state spending cap, strip lawmakers of the power to draw their own district lines and make it harder for public school teachers to get tenure. A coalition of unions has spent millions on television ads to discredit the measures, and polls show none winning majority support.
That his ballot initiatives face long odds is just one sign of how far Schwarzenegger's star has fallen since the recall election that swept him into office two years ago.
Protesters have tracked his appearances across the state and hours before Friday's event, about 150 demonstrators representing unions, nurses, teachers, firefighters and gay rights activists chanted outside the meeting hall.
"The governor isn't listening to the people," said Erik Olson of the California School Employees Association. "Inside this building are people invited by the governor. Outside are people who gathered to have a real town meeting."
Friday's protest grew louder before Schwarzenegger even arrived, when one of the governor's aides confirmed to reporters what had been a widely expected announcement.
Since emigrating from his native Austria in 1968, Schwarzenegger has known extraordinary success in every enterprise he has tried — from bodybuilding to movie stardom to his high-profile marriage to Maria Shriver (search), a member of the Kennedy family. But his improbable stint as California's governor has proven a bigger challenge than the ever-optimistic Schwarzenegger might have expected.
Schwarzenegger won the state's historic 2003 recall election as a political outsider, pledging to restore fiscal integrity to the state budget and rid Sacramento of special-interest money and influence. He begins his quest for a second term a much more conventional politician and, critics argue, a different governor than he promised to be.
Despite early efforts at cooperation with Democrats, Schwarzenegger has lurched to the right in the last year — acting as a partisan Republican in a state where one-third of voters identify themselves as members of that party.
He alienated many voters in Democrat-leaning California by campaigning for President Bush and for deriding Democratic lawmakers as "girlie men" and "losers." And after famously declaring that his wealth inoculated him from the lure of large campaign contributions, he has raised millions from real estate developers, pharmaceutical companies and other constituencies with business before the state.
After enjoying stratospheric approval ratings early in his term, a nonpartisan Field Poll released last week found that just 36 percent of California voters were inclined to re-elect Schwarzenegger.
State Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly have announced plans to run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Schwarzenegger. Other Democrats, including film director Rob Reiner and actor Warren Beatty, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Longtime Democratic strategist Pat Caddell said the governor's political problems showed he misread the meaning of the recall election.
"He never understood why he was elected," Caddell said. "People were angry, and they rose up — it wasn't about electing Arnold Schwarzenegger. That's why it's so sad that he turned into a partisan. He had the opportunity of a lifetime."
Schwarzenegger supporters point to many accomplishments under his watch.
He has made good on his promise to reduce the state's budget deficit without raising taxes. He did so primarily by persuading voters to approve a $15 billion bond measure in 2004 that will have to be paid back — with interest.
He also forged a bipartisan agreement with legislators to cut the state's worker's compensation rates, which had been among the highest in the nation.
Schwarzenegger has taken a largely liberal stance on issues such as environmental protection and gay rights. But he disappointed many gay rights advocates earlier this month when he vowed to veto legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.