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Opinion: Arnold's Precarious Political Path

How Schwarzenegger's governorship might never have happened.

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    NEWSLETTERS

     Arnold Schwarzenegger's disclosure, in his new tell-all book, that wife Maria Shriver initially forbade him from running for governor, then relented, is a fascinating look at the unpredictability of how politics and history unfold.

    In the book, "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story," which was released Monday, Schwarzenegger writes that Maria's misgivings very nearly killed his gubernatorial hopes on the launch pad.

     Despite his often-proclaimed love for "action," Schwarzenegger's last-minute decision was just that -- last-minute.

    But that disclosure comes as no surprise to me, or to any other political reporter who was at the scene of Schwarzenegger's bombshell announcement that hot summer day in 2003 -- the Burbank studio where "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" was being shot.

    In fact, it was entirely consistent with the circus environment that had surrounded the entire recall campaign directed against Gov. Gray Davis.

    I had flown to Burbank the morning of August 6, thinking that Schwarzenegger would officially take himself out of the running.

     I encountered Dave Cox, the Assembly Republican leader, on the flight, who shared the same opinion.  And in fact I had had several conversations with one of Schwarzenegger's political advisors, George Gorton, who indicated that Schwarzenegger was not running.

    As my colleague, journalist Joe Mathews, noted in his book, "The People's Machine", Gorton had already prepared a statement saying that Schwarzenegger would instead endorse former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.  Schwarzenegger told Mathews, "Finally I said to myself, 'Well, something will come out on "The Tonight Show." Just let it come out naturally when you're on the show.'"

    People I spoke with that day who were lined up for "The Tonight Show" tickets were anything but universally encouraging when it came to the idea of a Schwarzenegger candidacy.  I remember tourists who were from out-of-state seemed the most supportive of the idea.

    When Schwarzenegger told Leno his decision that afternoon, it was equivalent to setting off a bomb in the political arena -- not just in California, but worldwide.  I was listening to a live link of the taping over my cellphone, just minutes before my own 5 pm broadcast, and thought, "Here we go!"

    Even George Gorton, Schwarzenegger's political advisor, had a stunned look on his face, telling me, "Well now I've got to go run a campaign."

    And Gray Davis, who knew he was already in deep trouble, knew it was suddenly much worse, noting dourly to me that he was "a mere mortal" now seeking to save his job against a world-known celebrity.

    We know the rest. The first recall of a governor in California history, and seven tumultuous years of Schwarzenegger's governorship.  And it very nearly didn't happen.

    (Disclosure: Randle Communications, where blogger Kevin Riggs is senior vice president, has represented Republican issues and candidates, but it does not represent Schwarzenegger.)

    Author Kevin Riggs, an Emmy-winning former TV reporter in Sacramento, is Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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