Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a masterful performance on The Tonight Show as he announced his gubernatorial candidacy on August 6.
Do not take this as an endorsement of his candidacy or platform. Basically, even just picking a random name out of the phone book would likely be a big improvement on Gray Davis. However, there are few things in domestic politics more distasteful to me than a "moderate Republican."
Still, this announcement was orchestrated beautifully. I found myself thinking of Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land setting up his martyrdom scene with perfect carnie timing, waiting for just the moment to turn the tip to get maximum impact on the marks.
The set-up was beautiful. He waited till just the right moment, just a couple of days before the deadline. Notice that he waited until just hours after Feinstein, who would have been the favorite, bowed out. He had a perfect bit of misdirection, with an elaborate story circulating about how he was supposedly going to turn down the run, and bring Richard Riordan out on Leno's show. He thus knocked down the expectations, so that his big entrance had maximum impact.
The performance on Leno was outstanding. He appeared relaxed and confident- but not arrogant or smug. He led up to the words "I'm running for governor" with a nice bit of personal history and perspective, just enough- a couple of minutes worth.
Without leaning on it too heavily, he got to cast himself as the outsider, invoking the famous populist rallying cry from the movie Network (without even noting that it was a movie quote): "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"
He managed to discreetly finesse a couple of possible liabilities, predicting the mudslinging, specifically using the word "womanizing," which will take some of whatever sting there is out of it. Yes, he acknowledged, Gray Davis is unparalleled at running a negative campaign- but he's no good at running a state.