WASHINGTON - By leaping with full force into the race to remove California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger resolved the mystery of whether he would be a candidate.

Now the question is: Can he win?

Yes, according to major-party strategists and independent analysts in California.

Most said that if California voters decide to dump Gov. Gray Davis in the state's first-ever recall election, Schwarzenegger stands an excellent chance of finishing first in the race to replace him.

"He's not a sure thing, but he's a natural politician, a very intelligent man and a very credible candidate," said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a Democrat and nominal Davis supporter, said that "Democrats are going to have a very difficult time defeating Arnold."

Republicans are closing ranks behind the movie star, while "we are in trouble on the Democratic side with Governor Davis," Brown said on CNN.

Davis said late in the day that California voters would answer the question: Will Schwarzenegger become the next governor?

"The Terminator may be back. He may not be back. The people will make that choice," the governor told reporters.

On a day of fast-moving developments, it was clear that Schwarzenegger's entry had triggered shock waves that rolled through both parties. Among them:

  • Two statewide officials became the first Democrats to break with the governor by announcing they would add their names to the lengthy list of candidates running to replace him.

    The decisions by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi further weakened Davis' hold on his office, because keeping credible Democratic choices off the ballot had been central to his strategy for beating the recall.

  • In another setback for the governor, the state Supreme Court said it would not intervene to stop the Oct. 7 election. Davis had sought to postpone it until the March presidential primary, when more Democrats are likely to vote.

  • Schwarzenegger announced that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican who had been the leading potential candidate in recent polls, would be supporting him.

    Riordan issued no immediate public statement, however.

  • The wealthy Republican who financed the recall drive, Rep. Darrell Issa, tearfully announced that he was pulling out of the governor's race. His decision reduced the number of GOP candidates and improved the odds that a Republican would win.

    That Republican could be Schwarzenegger.

    While his candidacy has just begun, a number of factors appear to be working in his favor.

    They include: