On a recent afternoon before last night's California primaries, the highest-profile politician in the state stepped to a podium to give a speech -- but not on behalf of any candidate.
With one year to go in his term, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared at a San Diego ceremony to welcome California veterans returning from overseas service.
"It doesn't matter if this is my last months in office, which it's not, it's my last year in office," Schwarzenegger told "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran in an exclusive interview. "I mean we continue on and we sprint through the finish line. The last months, the last year, the last six years, it's all about serving the veterans, because there's no one that appreciates their work more than an immigrant like myself."
Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET
Carly Fiorina won the state's Republican nomination for Senate, pitting her against incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer. Republican Meg Whitman, former head of eBay, won California's Republican gubernatorial primary to face the state attorney general, former Gov. Jerry Brown, in the general election.
But the guy who once dominated California politics -- who seemed poised a few years back to usher in a new era in the Golden State, like Ronald Reagan before him -- was out of the limelight.
These are difficult days for most incumbents, and even with his superstar status, Arnold Schwarzenegger is no exception. Despite his signature self-confidence, he acknowledges that he's become a very unpopular governor.
"You know something? It's perfectly fine, I understand the mood," Schwarzenegger said. "I don't blame the people for being upset about what's going on."
In a rare, wide-ranging interview, Schwarzenegger spoke exclusively to "Nightline" about everything from veterans' issues to how President Obama is handling the Gulf oil spill to healing partisan divides.
California faces a colossal, grinding fiscal and political crisis with no end in sight: a $19 billion deficit in the state's budget; a political system in such deep partisan gridlock it makes Washington look almost functional. Add to that cutbacks in state services, higher taxes--it's all a recipe for deep voter disgust.
Much of that anger is aimed at Schwarzenegger, who has seen his approval rating collapse to 23 percent, with seven in 10 saying they disapprove of the way he's done his job.
So he may no longer be "the Governator," but he is determined to keep pushing to change the entrenched political system he entered into seven years ago.
"I will continue doing the reforms and run through the finish line till I'm finished," Schwarzenegger said. "Because we've got to change the system that doesn't serve the people well. That is the bottom line. Rather than just complaining."
Schwarzenegger resisted joining several fellow Republicans in criticizing Obama's handling of the oil spill, saying instead that the president was "doing everything that he can" to fix the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico -- but that may not be enough.
"What's the public relations disaster versus what's the reality?" Schwarzenegger said. "Two different things altogether. I think that he's doing everything that he can in order to deal with the crisis. But public relations-wise ... the people in America are saying that he hasn't responded quickly enough or he isn't responding strong enough, or he's not in charge of the situation."