Los Angeles, Oct. 8 (Reuters): After the waves of confetti had settled and the victory speech was delivered, the master optimist Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed that even he was stunned by the huge victory he had just secured.
“Can you believe that' Only in America!” he told two correspondents at the side of the stage, beaming with excitement after a difficult but victorious campaign that culminated with serious questions about his character.
“This is very great moment for me,” he said a moment later to another reporter in the sing-song accent of his native Austrian German.
More than 50 television cameras and hundreds of supporters gathered for his victory rally in a Los Angeles hotel that kicked off as the neophyte politician’s campaign for California governor had just two months ago: with late night host Jay Leno cracking jokes.
“Tonight is the testament to just how important one appearance on the Tonight Show can be,” Leno said of Schwarzenegger’s surprise announcement in August on his show.
He then told a joke about Schwarzenegger’s acting ability, an easy jab at a man best-known for playing a robot from the future.
The setting was the same ballroom where ex-actor Ronald Reagan learned he had become President in 1980.
Veterans of that event said there was less press for that presidential celebration than last night’s gubernatorial victory bash.
“It is surreal, let’s face it,” said Barbara Baker, Schwarzenegger’s girlfriend from 1969-75. “Arnold told me in 1979... He said just wait until I become governor of California in ten years.”
Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria Shriver brought her whole family, providing a veritable line up of legendary Kennedy smiles. Mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver — President John F. Kennedy’s sister — as well as former vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver made their first joint appearance of the campaign alongside her brothers and other relatives.
“I feel very happy for Arnold,” said Maria Shriver, dressed in a fashionable sleeveless white dress as she left the stage. While on stage, the actor planted no less than three kisses on his wife.
She was the first person he thanked. “I know how many votes I got today because of you,” he said. Women who knew Schwarzenegger acknowledged his wild side but praised him.
“Is he outrageous' Is he rowdy, can he be' Yes,” said actress Cathy Lee Crosby, who was at the Kennedy household when Maria first brought Schwarzenegger over for a weekend 23 years ago.
“But I have never known him to be disrespectful.”
Actor Rob Lowe, who said in August that he would rally celebrities for Schwarzenegger, attended — but surprisingly few other actors came. “I am so happy that the people saw Arnold for the leader that he is,” he said in a brief exchange. “It’s very exciting for California.”
Lowe also echoed the daunting part of winning an election — as portrayed in the movie The Candidate in which Robert Redford is elected California senator with the help of veteran political operatives and then wonders aloud what he is supposed to do next.
“Now the hard work begins,” he said.