#TBT: When celebs shook up — and took over — the 2003 election for California governor

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Talk of a potential 2020 presidential election between reality TV star turned president Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey, who was once the queen of daytime TV, is rampant. If it actually happens, the star-studded race would be one for the ages — and the cameras — but it wouldn’t be the first time celebrities ran against one another for public office.

In fact, the race would barely edge out the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election for star power. That was the year that the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, easily won in a field that included some other familiar names from the celebrity world: Gary Coleman (Diff’rent Strokes), Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, and media columnist Arianna Huffington (who had yet to start Huffington Post). Actor D.L. Hughley as well as watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher, filed documents with the state to become a candidate. Adult film star Mary Carey campaigned too.

Arianna Huffington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Gary Coleman were three of the candidates for California governor in 2003. (Photo: Getty Images)
Arianna Huffington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Gary Coleman were three of the candidates for California governor in 2003. (Photo: Getty Images)

When the ballots were counted, Schwarzenegger won handily with 49 percent of the vote in a field of 134 candidates. This was in part thanks to Coleman, who stopped campaigning after Schwarzenegger entered the race. Coleman, who died in 2010, projected the box office heavyweight would win. (Coleman came in eighth.) 

Schwarzenegger, who had never before run for office, had announced his big move during a taping of The Tonight Show on Aug. 6, 2003CNN noted that, up until then, people expected Schwarzenegger would dismiss talk about him seeking office.

Arnold Schwarzenegger announces his run for California governor in 2003. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Arnold Schwarzenegger announces his run for California governor in 2003. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

 “I came to the conclusion that even though there are great sacrifices to make, I felt in the end it is my duty to jump in the race,” he told then-host Jay Leno. “I’m the most unique candidate because I’m an outsider.”

Calls for Oprah to run for the country’s highest office began on social media at Sunday evening’s Golden Globes, when she gave an inspiring acceptance speech while receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

But the idea of her running for president isn’t a new one. The subject came up in October, as Oprah was visiting her friend Gayle King on CBS This Morning. King mentioned that people “ask it all the time. Even I am now starting to think the rules have changed about running for president.”

Oprah’s response — besides the idea that King had “lost her mind” — was clear.

“There will be no running for office of any kind for me,” she said.

We’ll see.

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