Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
Two weeks ago, Schwarzenegger shared the stage with the Bushes at a fund-raiser in Santa Monica, Calif.
updated 8/31/2004 6:59:56 PM ET 2004-08-31T22:59:56

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has much to offer President Bush and the GOP at this week’s Republican National Convention, from star power to middle-of-the-road political appeal.

Schwarzenegger also stands to gain some political gravitas and good will from the party.

But there are risks on both sides. Schwarzenegger could tarnish his moderate credentials by aligning himself with a president and a national party that are unpopular in his home state. Bush risks getting overshadowed by a star who doesn’t always stick to the script.

“It’s a challenge to write a speech for Schwarzenegger because his real strength and charisma comes as the political outsider fighting the demons, fighting the dragons,” said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento. “And he can’t fight the dragons there. He has to support the dragons.”

Schwarzenegger will speak Tuesday during prime time, a plum spot that guarantees live coverage on network television. Aides said he will give a personal, 15- to 20-minute speech about his evolution from Austrian bodybuilder to Hollywood movie star to Republican governor, and that he’ll be effusive in his support for Bush.

He plans to “give a personal story of why he’s chosen to be in the Republican Party,” said spokesman Rob Stutzman.

Stutzman said the White House didn’t vet the speech, but “I believe they’re very pleased” at what will be a “real landmark event in the governor’s young political career.”

Schwarzenegger took office last November after voters recalled Democrat Gray Davis. The actor-turned-governor has remained wildly popular despite bruising battles with the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Now he has a chance to position himself as a national political leader.

“What he gets out of it, I think, is a chance to show that he’s done this on more than just a whim — at least to show the rest of the country,” said delegate Mark Leyes, a city councilman in Garden Grove, Calif. “That he can do it with a good nature and good sense of humor as well, but that he’s as serious a politician as anybody.”

But Schwarzenegger must proceed carefully in his support for Bush, since he and most voters in Democrat-leaning California oppose the president on issues from gay marriage to oil drilling. Schwarzenegger’s approval rating stood at 65 percent in California in a poll this month, while Bush’s was 40 percent.

So far, Schwarzenegger’s embrace of Bush’s re-election effort has been cautious. They’ve appeared together in the state, but the governor has sent mixed signals about campaigning outside California.

“He has everything to lose and nothing to gain,” said delegate Mark Leggio, a Southern California auto dealer. “He can be characterized as a Republican, a far-right extremist, a pro-Bush guy. There’s so much Bush hatred out there.”

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