Five years of political warfare have certainly taken their toll on Schwarzenegger—as he has battled the state's labor unions and recurrent, multibillion-dollar budget problems, his approval rating has slipped from 60 percent two years ago to 40 percent this fall—but the governor is still widely admired for his work on global warming, in particular. Some political observers believe he could parlay his environmental reputation into an Al Gore-like role as a roving champion of green technology and climate-conscious energy policy.
There may also be more politics in his future. During the Republican primaries, there were murmurings of a blockbuster political partnership between Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg, the equally independent mayor of New York. But with Bloomberg aiming for another term as mayor, Schwarzenegger's more likely road to Washington is through the Senate.
It's difficult to picture the governor in an organization where he would have anything less than a starring role, but California's two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, are both liberal Democrats, and political experts say Boxer, in particular, could be vulnerable to a challenge. Boxer has already begun raising money for a re-election campaign in 2010—the same year, political experts have noted, that Schwarzenegger's term runs out.
Schwarzenegger, for his part, has refused to look too far ahead, saying his role as governor is his top priority, trumping any commitment to the Republican Party or its goals of winning back a Senate seat. "For me, the most important thing is, when I make a decision, is what is best for the people of California, and what is best for our economy, and what's best for the state, not what is best for my party," he said on 60 Minutes. "I'm not a party servant. I'm a public servant."
It's entirely possible, Schwarzenegger likes to joke, that after his years in the political spotlight, he may not even be the best person to ask about what's next for him. He said in an interview in November that his wife, Maria Shriver, would probably have something to say about his future, as well. "Before I make any move, the next move that I make, I'm going to go and say to Maria: 'Maria, you tell me what to do.' "
Time will tell, perhaps, if Shriver's—and Schwarzenegger's—tastes run more toward Capitol Hill, Terminator 4, or something else entirely.