Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still has two years left in his term, but the former actor already appears to be preparing for his next role -- likely on the world stage.
In January, he will address the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland. That event follows an international summit on reducing greenhouse gas emissions he convened earlier this month in Beverly Hills.
Schwarzenegger also has been asked repeatedly whether he would entertain a position if offered one by President-elect Barack Obama, most likely focused on alternative energy or other environmental initiatives. He's been coy in some of his answers, but has said he will remain in office until the end of his term in January 2011.
With his governorship entering its final years and his ability to attract the spotlight intact, the question is arising more frequently: What will Arnold do?
Will he share the stage with Al Gore as a global environmental crusader, promote green technology for an Obama administration, run for the U.S. Senate? Or might he pursue political reform on a broader scale, as he has hinted in appearances with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who shares Schwarzenegger's independent streak?
Any of the options that would give him a larger platform undoubtedly would be more appealing than dealing with the gridlock inside California's Capitol. The partisan finger-wagging has kept him wrapped up in negotiations over California's faltering state finances for much of the last two years, and his approval ratings have followed the decline in the state's economic fortunes.
The Republican governor enjoyed a brief diversion from the budget frustrations as he mingled with leaders from 19 countries at the global warming summit organized by his administration.
The meeting had a lofty goal: drafting the template for the next phase of United Nations climate talks. The U.N. has a December 2009 deadline to complete a treaty to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
While it might seem presumptuous for a governor of just one state to attempt to influence the talks, Schwarzenegger is a unique character. He has successfully branded himself as a modern environmental activist by repeating the same message: Cut emissions and invest in green technologies such as solar and wind power.
That image has held even though implementation of Schwarzenegger's signature policy -- the 2006 law seeking to cut emissions roughly a third by 2020 -- is so complex that it won't be completed until after he leaves office.
"When I think about what we're doing to address climate change and address a global issue, I think it's only fitting that Governor Schwarzenegger should be the lead," said Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich during the Beverly Hills conference. "After all, he was a seven-time Mr. Olympia and two-time Mr. Universe, and when it comes to climate change, you, Arnold, are Mr. World."
Obama burnished Schwarzenegger's environmental reputation even more by videotaping an address that opened his climate change conference.
Obama's election has intensified the speculation over what Schwarzenegger will do next. While he endorsed Republican candidate John McCain, the governor repeatedly praised Obama, who was endorsed by the governor's wife, Maria Shriver.
Schwarzenegger, 61, has been asked during news conferences and television interviews whether he would consider a job in the next administration.
Even as he has volunteered to help Obama however he can, Schwarzenegger has said consistently that he will stay on as governor. He still has grand ambitions that include some kind of health care reform, updating the state's aging system of reservoirs and canals, and restructuring California's budget process.
Schwarzenegger's name comes up as a possible U.S. Senate candidate should Sen. Dianne Feinstein decide to run for governor in 2010 or to run against Sen. Barbara Boxer. Both are Democrats.
But a governor accustomed to bright lights is unlikely to feel satisfied in the Senate, as one actor in a cast of 100. His centrist political philosophy also could make it difficult for him to survive a Republican primary in his home state.
One of the biggest wild cards is Shriver. A Democrat and early supporter of Obama, she was caught off guard in 2003 when Schwarzenegger announced his intention to run in the recall election for governor.
Schwarzenegger says that won't happen next time.
"Before I make any move, the next move that I make, I'm going to go and say to Maria: 'Maria, you tell me what to do,"' Schwarzenegger said in a recent Fox News interview.
A reprise of his Hollywood career seems unlikely. The film star who earned $30 million in his final "Terminator" movie now says he'd rather be an action hero on weightier matters such as alternative energy and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.
Schwarzenegger often has said how much he admires his in-laws, who started the Special Olympics and followed a family legacy of public service.
His ambition to leave a similar legacy is a driving force. Schwarzenegger has signed partnerships with the governors of Western states and Canadian provinces to develop regional cap-and-trade systems designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, he signed deals with regional government leaders from Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Indonesia in which they pledged support for climate initiatives.
After several years promoting environmental issues, Schwarzenegger told The Associated Press that combating global warming is now as ingrained in him as the career that began his rise to international fame -- bodybuilding.
"Everything I do is forever. I got into bodybuilding at an early age and I will be working out until I drop dead, and hopefully they will put dumbbells in my casket," he said. "I will continue promoting fitness forever and I will be an environmental leader forever."