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Governator gaining on Constitution

Arnold's amending plans for 2008

Many in Hollywood are rooting for John Kerry in today’s election because of his friendly relationship with the entertainment industry. But what if someone even closer to showbiz made a bid for the White House?

Some Republicans are already thinking about a President Arnold Schwarzenegger.

No matter whether George W. Bush or Kerry wins this race, in 2008 the Republican party will be looking for a presidential candidate.

There’s just one obvious hitch: The Constitution would have to be amended to allow the Austrian-born bodybuilder-turned-action star-turned-politician to hold the nation’s highest office.

Schwarzenegger has been typically coy about whether he has higher political ambitions, saying he’d like to run but staying quiet on whether he’d campaign for a constitutional amendment.

Coyness has become something of a political trademark for Schwarzenegger. Remember how he convinced the world that he was going on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in August 2003 to say he wasn’t interested in running for governor?

But asked whether he would campaign for a the amendment allowing him to serve, he said outright on Monday, “I won’t campaign for it.”

He added: “It will become too political with me as part of it. I don’t want it to be the Arnold Amendment.”

That approach is similar to the one he took with the recall. Schwarzenegger left his intentions vague while others secured a place on the ballot for the recall measure.

Of course, amending the Constitution and qualifying a ballot measure are two very different beasts. The Constitution has only been amended 27 times in the nation’s history and only five times in the last 50 years. The process, which the framers intentionally designed to be arduous, would first require a two-thirds vote of both the U.S. House and Senate and then ratification of both houses of the legislatures in 38 states.

(Another way would be to hold a constitutional convention, but that method is highly unlikely.)

Even if an amendment garnered enough congressional support, before Tuesday’s elections Democrats controlled at least one legislative house in 28 states, and the party would understandably be wary of ratifying an amendment that would in effect create a blockbuster presidential candidate they’d have to face in 2008.

Efforts already under way in Congress are making little headway. During this session of Congress, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced an amendment that would allow immigrants who have been citizens for 20 or more years (Schwarzenegger celebrated the 20th anniversary of his citizenship last year) to run.

Another bill in the House, supported by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would require 35 years of citizenship, which would disqualify Schwarzenegger until the 2020 cycle, when he’ll be 73 years old.

Neither bill, however, is expected to be acted upon before the congressional session ends.

‘Absolutely’ wants to run

But whether Schwarzenegger campaigns for an amendment or not, he will surely loom over any debate, especially as he has made clear that he wants to run for president.

Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” he responded, “Yes, absolutely,” when asked if he’d like to run for president. He added: “I think, you know, because why not? I mean, you know, anyone with my way of thinking, you always shoot for the top. But it’s not something that I am preoccupied with.”

Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum argues the Governator makes passing an amendment more probable.

“Like Nixon going to China, it would a take a strong Republican to force the issue,” he said. “If this was about a female Democratic governor from Canada, there would be no impetus for the Republicans to do it,” Hoffenblum said.

Pressure on Dems

While Republicans eager to have Schwarzenegger on their ticket would support the measure, he said Democrats who court the support of immigrants would also feel pressure to ratify.

Hoffenblum said the first sign of whether Schwarzenegger has presidential ambitions will come next year, when he announces whether he’ll run for re-election in 2006.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t think he’ll run for re-election,” he said. But in order to stay viable as a presidential candidate, he said, Schwarzenegger would need to stay in political office.

Still, whatever Schwarzenegger’s intentions are, legal observers warn against printing up “Arnold ’08” bumper stickers just yet. Allan Ides, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said a constitutional amendment in time is unlikely.

But there’s always 2012.

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