Next comes the hard part: making good on a long list of campaign-trail promises to restore the California dream.
Schwarzenegger's plans to attract jobs, revive a troubled economy and erase a massive deficit will have to go through a Legislature controlled by Democrats angered by the recall process some called a hostile takeover.
But Schwarzenegger expressed confidence that California lawmakers would get the message voters delivered in Tuesday night's election.
"The legislators up there have gotten this message last night, that the people of California want change," he said.
That message may resound beyond California's borders. The Washington Post reports that both Democrats and Republican are warily reading the California vote for signs of how next year's presidential and congressional campaign might play out.
Former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta told The Post: "That same kind of anger and frustration can happen across the country if the economy doesn't improve, if the job situation doesn't improve, if gridlock in Washington continues on major issues. If I were an incumbent in any office, I would be a lot more nervous today."
In the state capital, Schwarzenegger's imminent arrival prompted a flurry of activity.
Lame-duck Gov. Gray Davis hurried Wednesday to fill vacancies, quickly naming a series of new judges, and announcing an appointment to the California Coastal Conservancy within hours after he was recalled.
Davis has about 100 pending appointments to make, 15 of which require Senate confirmation, in addition to another 21 that already are pending before the Senate, said spokesman Steve Maviglio.
Davis spent Wednesday closeted with aides, reviewing the approximately 250 bills before him from last month's legislative session, while Democratic Senate leader John Burton was considering a special session to approve Davis' appointees before Schwarzenegger takes office in mid-November.
"As long as Gov. Davis is the governor, which he will be until Mr. Schwarzenegger is sworn in, he has the constitutional right to appoint people," said the San Francisco Democrat.
Schwarzenegger's first press conference Wednesday yielded few new specifics about how he plans to fix California's ills.
He reiterated plans for an independent audit of the state's books before revealing program cuts, pledged to repeal the recent tripling of the car tax, said he'd work with Indian tribes to negotiate more casino revenues and promised again not to raise taxes.
More specifics were likely to emerge Thursday, when he was set to hold a joint press conference in Santa Monica with Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, chairman of his transition team, to announce its other members.
Schwarzenegger's toughest and first challenge is an $8 billion budget deficit, which will grow by another $4 billion if the car tax hike is repealed. Schwarzenegger also has said he will not cut education spending, and much of California's budget is committed to specific programs by law, leaving the new governor potentially little room to maneuver.
"In the very near future, I will be announcing what I will do," he said.
Democrats were quick to offer support. Schwarzenegger spoke Wednesday with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, state Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and Burton. All promised to work with the new governor, who will be sworn in by mid-November, while urging him to get to work on his programs.
Perhaps in a sign of partisan troubles ahead, Burton asserted that Schwarzenegger has no mandate and will have a tough time fulfilling campaign promises like rolling back the tripling of the vehicle license fee and a law giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
Californians voted Tuesday to recall Davis by a margin of 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent. Schwarzenegger was elected to replace him, winning a solid 48.7 percent in a field of 135 candidates.
According to The Post, both Republicans and Democrats saw hopeful signs in the recall vote — as well as reasons for worry.
Republicans were glad to win the governorship in the nation's most populous state — and the biggest electoral prize in presidential races — especially given the vast registration advantage held by Democrats there.
Democrats interpreted the voter anger that ousted Davis as a general reaction to the sluggish economy, which could also hurt President Bush next year.
The appeal of an untraditional candidate like Schwarzenegger could translate into success for the mavericks in the Democratic presidential field: Howard Dean, who has used grassroots support to leap to the front of the pack, and Wesley Clark, who enters the race with no political experience.
California's economy and budget are the worry for Republicans: if Schwarzenegger gets blame for mishandling them, it could taint Mr. Bush.
That might eliminate any serious chance for the Republicans to contest California in the looming presidential race. Dependably Republican in the seven races from 1968 through 1988, the Golden State has gone for the Democrats the last three times. But Mr. Bush has been appealing to Latinos, who make up a large part of the state's population.
But there was plenty of worry for Democrats as well.
The leading Democrat, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, was beaten by almost a two-to-one margin. While Bustamante took 31.7 percent, 62.4 percent of voters cast their ballots for Republicans — Schwarzenegger, McClintock or Peter Ueberroth, who quit the race but remained on the ballot.
Despite having a 1.29 million-voter edge in registration and bringing in Democratic stars like former President Clinton during the campaign, the Republicans gained 2.35 million more votes than Bustamante.