Arnold Schwarzenegger told "Tonight" show host Jay Leno that the decision was his toughest since he decided to get a bikini wax in 1978.

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 6 — Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated the suspense Wednesday night by declaring that he would challenge Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall election, immediately becoming the most prominent opponent of the embattled Democrat.

SCHWARZENEGGER, 56, a self-styled moderate Republican who was born and raised in Austria before becoming a champion bodybuilder and top-drawer Hollywood star, announced his decision in an appearance on NBC’s “Tonight” show.

“I decided that California is in a disastrous situation right now,” Schwarzenegger, the husband of NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver and star of such blockbusters as “The Terminator” movies, “Conan the Barbarian” and “Total Recall,” told “Tonight” host Jay Leno. “... The atmosphere is disastrous. There is a total disconnect between the people of California and politicians.”

“The politicians are fiddling, fumbling and failing,” he said. “And the man failing more than anyone is Gray Davis. He is failing them terribly, and this is why he needs to be recalled, and this is why I am going to run for governor.”

Schwarzenegger’s decision shocked political observers who had reported for more than two weeks that he would announce that he was not running in a race for which almost 400 people have filed papers declaring their intentions to compete. Earlier in the day, in fact, NBC News reported that friends reiterated that he would announce on “Tonight” that he was not going to run.


Another prominent would-be contender, however, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, announced Wednesday that she was staying on the sidelines.

In a statement, Feinstein said that “after thinking a great deal about this recall, its implications for the future, and its misguided nature,” she would not place her name on the ballot.

Having earlier indicated that she did not intend to run, Feinstein said Davis should be given the chance to finish his second term, which he won in November.

“Sadly, the state is ... going to be engaged in an election that is becoming more and more like a carnival every day,” Feinstein said. “With a decade of experience in the U.S. Senate, I believe I can be most helpful to California as its senior senator.”

Several Democrats had publicly urged her to run, saying the party needed a fallback candidate in case Davis lost his job. Some polls show that Davis would lose the recall if the election were held now, regardless of the other candidates in the field.

Feinstein tops opinion polls as the state’s most popular politician, and many analysts believed that if she had run, Davis’ chances of survival would have fallen.

But commentator Arianna Huffington announced Wednesday that she would make the race as an independent. In appearances on NBC’s “Today” show and on MSNBC, she said she would run as an independent and would seek to galvanize “people who have given up on politics.”