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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Schwarzenegger's Run Is Purely Entertainment

Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping his campaign will be a Charles Atlas moment in reverse.

"It's like the famous Muscle Beach scene where the scrawny guy is getting sand kicked in his face by a bodybuilder," said an Arnold adviser. "But in this case, everyone's cheering on the bodybuilder, because the scrawny guy is the mean, nasty, reprehensible one."

The Scrawny Guy, aka the governor of California, is ready and eager to tattle on Arnold or sue his abs off. The race will be between a governor who became unpopular acting like a robot and an actor who became popular playing one.

After his wife, Maria, told him to go for it if he really wanted to, the movie star told his strategists not to put out a prepared statement saying he wouldn't run. On "The Tonight Show," the advisers, who had done all the spadework for a race but thought it was a no-go, watched agog as the boss began attacking Gray Davis. "We just looked at each other backstage and said, 'Huh?'" recalled one.

The former Mr. Universe and Junior Mr. Europe pulled a fast one and outsmarted the smarties. With one quip, he bikini-waxed the entire tedious field of yakking Democratic presidential candidates and sent the political world into a whirl. When was the last time a big-time candidate gave a speech in a Teutonic accent, sporting hip shades?

California Republicans had nowhere to go but up. In the last election, they were unable to topple one of the most unpopular governors in the state's history. Many were not even interested in challenging Davis in the recall, figuring it would be better to let him stew in his own $38 billion budget deficit.

They reckoned the recall created a unique opportunity for the 56-year-old Schwarzenegger. "This is a beauty contest, and Arnold is the best looking guy," one Republican said.

The race is so wacky, there's less emphasis on the fact that the actor is running on pecs and running away from peccadilloes.

Sure, he's smoked marijuana and his father was a Nazi, but look at the field: a porn star who wants to tax breast implants; a self-styled "smut peddler who cares"; a billboard Barbie in a pink Corvette; a former child actor; an ex-cop who wants to legalize ferrets; a comedian who wants to ban low-low-riding pants; a glam Greek columnist whose rich ex-husband endorsed Arnold.

But even swaddled by high-priced political advisers, the Terminator could easily terminate, tripping on his own ego or inexperience or past. "It depends on how much discipline he has," said one well-connected Republican. "The first stupid thing he says and it could be downhill from there."

Another Republican operative working for Peter Ueberroth said the Olympics impresario will run as "Arnold for adults." "This will be a real test of how shallow Californians are," he said.

Commentators on the left and right were mocking Schwarzenegger. Rush Limbaugh said the actor was no "Ronaldus Magnus." True, Ronald Reagan didn't announce on Johnny Carson. But a lot of pols have gone showbiz since then, from Bill Clinton playing the sax on Arsenio Hall and talking about his choice of underwear on MTV, to Ross Perot announcing his presidential candidacy on Larry King, to Al Gore in the hot tub on "Saturday Night Live."

When President George W. Bush does a Top Gun landing on an aircraft carrier, he's trying to imitate an action hero. When John Kerry carts his Harley to various campaign stops, he's trying to show he's a tough guy.

Schwarzenegger already has what consultants struggle to superimpose on candidates: an aura of a strong protector who will get voters out of messes.

As one of his advisers says, "Whether it's really Arnold or his movie image, he's seen as a man of few words and lots of action. Other candidates spend $50 million on ads to get a sliver of that persona."

Besides, the star isn't the first one with connections to a political dynasty but no elective experience to try to be governor of a big state. And unlike W., Arnold actually is a successful self-made businessman.

Maureen Dowd is a columnist at The New York Times, where this comment first appeared.