Arnie's back for another term

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The Independent US

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed a second term as California Governor with a decisive victory over Democrat Phil Angelides.

In a year when Republicans struggled nationwide, Schwarzenegger avoided the same fate by positioning himself as an "Arnold Republican" - a bipartisan dealmaker with strained ties to the Bush White House.

The actor's victory was a demoralising blow to state Democrats who hoped to oust the nation's best-known governor.

But recent polls showed Schwarzenegger with renewed popularity across party and geographic lines, including in traditionally Democratic coastal areas.

His victory is sure to raise his national stature and bring a fresh round of speculation about his political future. Schwarzenegger has joked about becoming president but because he is foreign-born, it would take a constitutional amendment for him to run.

"The biggest Republican winner tonight is the one guy who can't run for president in two years," said Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney. "Many Republicans will hold him up as a model for how the party can come back. He's the example of how to win."

A year ago, the race was the Democrats' to lose.

The Republican governor's popularity collapsed along with his grand scheme to realign political power in Sacramento. Schwarzenegger, 59, was forced to ponder the possibility that his first term might be his last.

But the former muscleman and Hollywood star abruptly changed course. He stopped belittling "girlie-men" legislators and public employee unions, and cut deals with Democrats on popular issues like global warming and road-building.

Aided by a rolling economy, his campaign won back Democratic and independent support by blending Reaganesque optimism with a return to the middle-ground politics that helped propel him to office in 2003.

"The real key to this race began last year when the governor said, 'I'm learning, I haven't done everything right"', said Schwarzenegger's strategist Matthew Dowd.

The mandate from voters: "consensus and bipartisanship," Dowd added. "That's what the people are hungry for."

Schwarzenegger's new term, his first full one as governor, will also will be his last. Term limits prevent him from running again.

But Schwarzenegger did not leave himself much time to savour the victory. He leaves today for a trade mission to Mexico.