- 16 Oct 06, 03:36 PM
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been rebooted by his advisers with results that should make other Republicans blush with envy. Six months ago it looked as if the Terminator would indeed terminate at the gubernatorial elections this November. He was languishing in the mid 30s in the approval poll ratings.
Now he has soared back into the upper 50s. In the musty library of the San Francisco University club I sat down with his key campaign guru Matthew Dowd to discuss the reversal of fortune. Two years ago the affable Mr Dowd helped to get George W Bush re-elected. Then it was all about mobilising the Christian right-wing base of the Grand Old Party and despatching them on a crusade to the polling booths.
Now the new mantra is to rediscover the fuzzy centre. "Americans hate this partisan bitterness, they hate extremes", Mr Dowd - who looks more like a pop producer than a political consultant and is also advising Sen John McCain - told me. "They feel more comfortable with leadership from the centre".
This is especially true in California, where Arnie has realised that he can't govern without the support of the majority voting block, which happens to be Democratic. Hence a $37bn grant for education, roads and other infrastructure projects, a state grant to conduct stem cell research and Kyoto-style caps on greenhouse gas emissions, which have impressed voters in California and upset GOP party hacks back in Washington.
"I always knew Arnie was a closet Democrat", one of them told me. "Look, he's married to Maria Shriver - a Kennedy - and he hired Susan Kennedy - no relation but a Democrat - to be his chief of staff."
If it were a country, California would have the world's sixth-biggest economy. So if Green is the new Red - I'm talking about the colour codes of American politics of course, where, somewhat confusingly for Brits, Red is the colour of the right - then Washington better take heed.
But it's not just a few hand-picked centrist policies that are making a difference. Like dozens of other Republican candidates, he has kept his distance from an increasingly toxic president. Two years ago he appeared on the stump for W in Ohio. Recently when Mr Bush was on a visit to California, Arnie shunned the commander-in-chief for a meeting with the other George making the headlines - George Clooney.
The governator has also learned to say the hardest word. He has shown contrition for his mistakes and it has worked. Mister Universe has become a "girly man", and much of touchy-feely California is impressed. As Mr Dowd put it to me with a twinkle of irony: "My recipe for success: I would get a politician to make one big mistake a week and then apologise for it."
Matt Frei is the BBC's senior North America TV correspondent.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites