On this day in 2003, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected governor of California, the most populous state in the nation with the world’s fifth-largest economy. Despite his inexperience, Schwarzenegger came out on top in the 11-week campaign to replace Gray Davis, who had earlier become the first United States governor to be recalled by the people since 1921. Schwarzenegger was one of 135 candidates on the ballot, which included career politicians, other actors, and one adult-film star.
Born in Thal, Austria, on July 30, 1947, Arnold Schwarzenegger began body-building as a teenager. He won the first of four “Mr. Universe” body-building championships at the age of 20, and moved to the United States in 1968. He also went on to win a then-record seven “Mr. Olympia” championships, securing his reputation as a body-building legend, and soon began appearing in films. Schwarzenegger first attracted mainstream public attention for a Golden Globe®-winning performance in Stay Hungry (1976) and his appearance in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron. At the same time, he was working on a B.A. at the University of Wisconsin, from which he graduated in 1979.
Schwarzenegger’s film career took off after his starring turn in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian. In 1983, he became a U.S. citizen; the next year he made his most famous film, The Terminator, directed by James Cameron. Although his acting talent is probably aptly described as limited, Schwarzenegger went on to become one of the most sought-after action-film stars of the 1980s and early 1990s and enjoyed an extremely lucrative career. The actor’s romantic life also captured the attention of the American public: he married television journalist and lifelong Democrat Maria Shriver, niece of the late President John F. Kennedy, in 1986.
With his film career beginning to stagnate, Schwarzenegger, a staunch supporter of the Republican party who had long been thought to harbor political aspirations, announced his candidacy for governor of California during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Aside from his well-known stint serving as chairman of the President s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President George H.W. Bush, Schwarzenegger had little political experience. His campaign, which featured his use of myriad one-liners well-known from his movie career, was dogged by criticism of his use of anabolic steroids, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct and racism. Still, Schwarzenegger was able to parlay his celebrity into a win, appealing to weary California voters with talk of reform. He beat his closest challenger, the Democratic lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, by more than 1 million votes.