A former movie star who has been a state governor for less than a year and is considered by some as ideologically out of sync with some of his party's positions will take the podium Tuesday night in a featured speech to the Republican National Convention.
And Republicans could not be more excited.
Revved up by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's sprawling address on Monday, Republican conventioneers strolling Manhattan's sidewalks looked forward to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance Tuesday evening.
"I think he's awesome," said Joan Keagley, a delegate from Kansas City, Mo. "I can't wait to hear him speak."
Other delegates apparently agree. A CBS News /New York Times survey of Republican delegates found 74 percent of the party faithful hold a favorable opinion of the governor. Only 4 percent held an unfavorable view, and 20 percent were undecided.
Along with first lady Laura Bush, Schwarzenegger is anchoring a Tuesday night lineup where diversity seems the theme. Eleven of those who will take the Madison Square Garden stage are women, among them North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Kentucky Rep. Anne Northup.
Hispanics are prominent among the speakers, from Carmen Bermudez who will deliver the invocation to Bonnie Garcia who will help lead the roll call, and the entertainers. Black Republicans like Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Education Secretary Rod Paige will also talk.
The convention has been criticized for trying to disguise the Republican party with a roster of speakers more moderate and diverse than the party's rank and file. But the truth is, besides the president, the party's biggest stars are moderates -- Schwarzenegger, John Mccain and Colin Powell. That raises a question: can moderates get the lead, White House roles in the party, or are they forever co-stars.
Schwarzenegger's speech will test that and reach beyond the adoring delegates and convention guests. His is a national address and, according to the recent CBS News poll, he has some convincing to do. Among Republican voters overall, Schwarzenegger enjoys a 47 percent favorable rating. While only 9 percent see the governor unfavorably, a sizeable 43 percent said they were undecided.
Political historians said Schwarzenegger's rapid rise up the GOP ranks had little precedent.
"It's quite a transition for him, considering the movies he's made, to be a featured speaker at the convention," said presidential historian Paul Boller. "I think it's unique."
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato says going back to 1960, major convention speakers have "all been established political figures, all of them in office for a long time."
"This is absolutely meteoric," Sabato said.
Trying to explain his rise Republicans cite Schwarzenegger's moderate politics and appealing biography as his chief assets
"I think he brings a different constituency," said Larry Novak of Brockton, Mass., vice chairman of the state Republican party. "Because of the performance that he's done in California. He's considered a moderate. He's pro-choice, he's pro gay rights, he moves more into the mainstream to take votes away."
Surveys indicate the governor does have wide appeal. Despite his moderate credentials, most of the governor's support in CBS News polls comes from self-identified conservatives. In the California recall election, he won 48.6 percent in a crowded field, taking twice as many independent voters as his Democratic opponent.
"And he's from California. You don't really expect to see that many Republicans from California," said Maryanne Kilroy, another Kansas City delegate. "I think that helps him a great deal."
In August, a Field Poll in California gave Schwarzenegger a 65 percent approval rating, the highest for a first-year governor in more than 25 years.
"He deals with all members not just of his party but of the governmental organizations in the state of California," said Myron Arlen of Great Neck, N.Y., comparing Schwarzenegger's work in Sacramento to what President Bush did as Texas governor and Ronald Reagan as president.
"Here's a guy a foreigner, comes to this country, works his way up, gets into politics marries into a good family, becomes very very wealthy, takes over the state, and is really having a fantastic time accomplishing what he is trying to do, which many well-seasoned Republicans have been unable to do," Arlen said.
Plus, "He is a very good businessman," his wife, Susan Arlen of Great Neck, N.Y. said.
And, notes Bay State GOP grand dame Polly Logan of Cohasset, Mass., "He's married to a Kennedy."
Not to be forgotten are Schwarzenegger's star quality and, some joked, impressive physique.
"There's an aura," Keagley said, around the governor.
The question for Republicans looking beyond 2004 is whether Schwarzenegger thinks that aura can carry him to the White House.
In addition to the other challenges that face any presidential hopeful (e.g., raising money, convincing voters and fending off other Republicans also eyeing the next nomination), Schwarzenegger faces a burden of historic proportions: article II, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
The passage states:" No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."
Schwarzenegger was born in Austria and thus is a naturalized — not a natural born — citizen. For Arnold to run for president, the Constitution must be amended.
That is no small task. Amendments require the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and the legislatures in three-fourths of the states.
That ratification process takes time; in the case of the 27th amendment, first proposed in 1789 and finally approved in 1992, it took 203 years. But the wheels can also turn very quickly: The 26th amendment took only three months from passage by Congress to ratification.
Delegates interviewed disagreed on whether the Constitution was likely to be changed to allow a Schwarzenegger candidacy, or whether it was a good idea for Schwarzenegger to declare presidential ambitions in any case. There was little doubt the California governor represents the party's future.
The question is, can a man with no legal chance to be president actually be a party leader?
"No," said Sabato," but he can be at the small table of people who have enormous influence in the party."
By Jarrett Murphy