Austrians keep tabs on Schwarzenegger

Associated Press

VIENNA, Austria - It's a question that's got Austria abuzz: Will the Terminator become the Governator?

Suddenly, the man known here simply as "Arnie" has become a national obsession amid reports that native son Arnold Schwarzenegger may run for governor of California.

"Terminator a Dream Candidate," the Austrian news weekly Profil headlined over movie stills of Schwarzenegger from the summer film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

"California needs a Governator - and who better than Arnold Schwarzenegger?" columnist Gerhard Plott wrote in a wry commentary for the newspaper Der Standard. "After all, America is by definition the land of unlimited possibilities."

Schwarzenegger is leaning against running in the Oct. 7 recall election against Democrat Gray Davis, but no final decision has been made, a senior adviser said Monday. Candidates have until Aug. 9 to get on the ballot.

"He's intelligent, and he's got strength and charisma," said Harald Mueller, a Vienna businessman who offers this political prediction: "Finally, Arnie will be governor, and that's super."

Schwarzenegger, who became a U.S. citizen in 1984, was born in 1947 in Thal, just outside the southern Austrian city of Graz.

Schwarzenegger, who turns 56 today, is still known locally by his nickname back when he was competing in international bodybuilding events: the "Steirische Eiche," or "Styrian Oak."

Until recently, his popularity in Austria was mostly confined to Graz, which built Schwarzenegger Stadium, a 15,350-seat soccer venue, in honor of its most famous son.

Schwarzenegger visits regularly, albeit briefly and quietly, and in general he hasn't sparked significantly more interest or press coverage in Austria than he does anywhere else.

Until now. Newspapers, magazines and television shows are rife with reports on Schwarzenegger and his political ambitions, spiced by irreverent commentary on the American penchant for electing entertainers.

In recent weeks, he has been compared to former President Reagan, actor Clint Eastwood, professional wrestler Jesse Ventura and other celebrities who have won elected office in the United States.

Plott joked that Schwarzenegger automatically would appeal to Hispanic voters because he always says: "Hasta la vista, baby."

Markus Guenther, an Austrian political commentator, contends that Schwarzenegger is an improbable GOP candidate because of his liberal stance on key issues. "He supports a woman's right to an abortion and a ban on semiautomatic weapons," he said. "Except in the cinema, that is."

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