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Arnold pumps ‘Leno’ rating

Show hits 2nd-highest rating of the year, doubling Dave

There’s already one clear winner in the California recall.

“The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” trounced the competition Wednesday night as guest Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped the bombshell news that he will run for the California governorship.

Leno’s show recorded its second-highest rating of the year, drawing more than double the audience of CBS’ “Late Night With David Letterman,” according to Nielsen’s overnight sample of major media markets.

Leno’s show averaged a 6.9 rating/ 17 share in the 55 Nielsen markets measured. Letterman averaged a 3.1 rating/7 share. ABC’s “Nightline” finished with a 3.0/7, while its “Jimmy Kimmel Live” netted a 1.2/5.

“Tonight” has been increasing its easy lead over “Late Night” all summer; Schwarzenegger provided bonus muscle — and plenty of it to go around.

NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” rode Schwarzenegger’s buff coattails, enjoying the highest overnight rating of the season (3.1/10), easily defeating CBS rival “Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn” (1.4/5).

Overall, Schwarzenegger’s guest spot brought Leno his best Wednesday night in four years. The top-rated Wednesday came May 26, 1999, when Ricky Martin and Jesse Ventura appeared as guests.

Leno enjoyed his best ratings of the season May 12 when he traded jobs with “Today” co-anchor Katie Couric.

Next week, the cast of Bravo’s hit reality show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” will show up on Leno’s show to make over both the host and the set. The fab five will appear over two nights, Aug. 14 and 15.

Official Nielsen ratings for Wednesday night will be available next week. Prelims showed Schwarzenegger drawing considerable numbers in markets he cares about politically. In L.A., 23% of television viewers tuned in; in Sacramento, it was a whopping 29%. In the Bay area and San Diego “Leno” drew 20% of the TV aud.

More than OK

But the actor-turned-politician also had incredible pull elsewhere, drawing his highest rating of the night in Oklahoma City, according to Nielsen.

If there was any downside to Schwarzenegger’s decision to run for governor, it came Thursday morning as the actor’s wife and “Dateline NBC” correspondent Maria Shriver asked for an unpaid leave of absence.

NBC News said it agreed to her request.