Last Thursday, when Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived at the county government building in Norwalk, Calif., you could tell with no trouble that he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood--and not just if you measure lat spread. He was trailed by a media contingent of the kind that usually turns out for George W. Bush. With the arched cushions of his pectorals thrusting out like an advance party, Schwarzenegger treated it all as his due. We're talking after all about a man who once routinely walked out on stages in a bathing suit to the opening theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Making his way through an adoring crowd of office workers, he approached the counter and announced his intention to file his candidacy for Governor. Then he smiled and asked clerk Tanya Ramirez, "You know who I am, right?"
You bet she does--and that's the California election in a nutshell. Thirty-five years after he arrived in the U.S., Schwarzenegger is a name that everybody knows, even if one that not everybody can spell. And in the pinwheeling world of the California recall, that alone may be enough to make him, at 56, the man who replaces Gray Davis as Governor. But when it comes to knowing a public figure, what we expect from elected officials is something different from what we settle for from movie stars. A guy can spend decades playing killer robots and musclehead commandos without once being asked to provide the timeline on his steroid use, fill in the picture on his sex life or clarify his position on offshore oil drilling. On the Today show last week, Arnold was asked twice whether he would make his tax returns public. He claimed he couldn't hear the question.
So just who is Arnold, and what does he bring to public life other than a cumulonimbus physique and the thickest Mitteleuropean accent since Henry Kissinger? Gary Coleman, the onetime TV actor who is also running for Governor, may be the very definition of a long-shot candidate. But even he has a website with a platform. That's more than you can say for Schwarzenegger. Last week he was still mostly saying things like, "I will pump up Sacramento!" Friends describe him as a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative but libertarian on most social issues. They also say he's a true conservative, a man who keeps a bust of Ronald Reagan in his office. What that means exactly is still something of a mystery.
Whatever kind of Republican Schwarzenegger may be, it's probably not the kind to give much comfort to a cultural conservative like Pat Robertson. The actor has said he's pro-choice, though how he feels about things like parental notification and partial-birth abortion is unknown. He's loud and clear about his support for gay rights, including adoption rights. He once told Cosmopolitan magazine, "I have no sexual standards in my head that say this is good or this is bad. Homosexual--that only means to me that he enjoys sex with a man and I enjoy sex with a woman. It's all legitimate to me."