Exclusive: Arnold's Primary Plan

The U.S. Constitution prevents Austria-born Arnold Schwarzenegger from running for president. But California's GOP governor, sworn in last week for a second term, still plans on influencing the 2008 election. Schwarzenegger says he'd like to move the California primary from June--when both parties have all but picked their nominees--to a much earlier date, in February. "We shouldn't be treated as a leftover," Schwarzenegger told NEWSWEEK while at home in Los Angeles, where he was recovering from a broken leg after a skiing accident. "We will go and make a lot of noise about the issues." The governor hopes the change will encourage candidates to spend more time talking to voters in the nation's most populous state, instead of "sucking us dry for money" at fund-raisers. "We don't want to sit back and let this whole thing go by and have California not be a player," he says.

The proposal would need to be brought to the state legislature and approved by a two-thirds vote. Schwarzenegger says he's meeting with leaders from both parties this week to discuss the plan. Moving up the primary certainly increases California's visibility among candidates--and puts the Golden State's environmental concerns on the agenda.

Currently, presidential campaigns are built around creating momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire--whose white, rural populations are notoriously unrepresentative of the country at large--then move on to the Southern states, which tend to favor more-conservative candidates. In 2008, Nevada will become the first Western state to intervene by holding its Democratic nominating caucus in January. Adding liberal California to the early mix would probably affect the nominating process by favoring big-money, big-name candidates such as Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Schwarzenegger is coy about expressing his support for any particular candidate at this point, though he has ties to several hopefuls. His top campaign strategist recently went to work for McCain. And he says he would "encourage" New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, rumored to be considering an independent candidacy, to run too. In his Inaugural Address, the governor touted "postpartisanship ... Republicans and Democrats actively giving birth to new ideas together." He is challenging presidential candidates to combat global warming and to reform health care, subjects that defy partisan solutions. Schwarzenegger credits his second-term landslide with his own sharp turn to the center after a disastrous year during which he belittled Democrats as "girlie men." Now, he says, "anyone can look and learn from what is going on in California."