Jay Leno and Arnold Schwarzenegger have made so many joint appearances lately, it's no wonder observers assume Leno endorsed the Terminator in his successful campaign for the California governor's seat. After all, Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on ''The Tonight Show.'' Leno, in turn, introduced the new governator at his Tuesday victory rally, which was followed by a seemingly impromptu return visit by Schwarzenegger to ''Tonight'' on Wednesday. ''They're just longtime friends,'' Leno spokesman Bruce Bobbins insisted to the New York Daily News. ''Leno didn't endorse Schwarzenegger? Everyone in California thought he did." said Peter Ragone, spokesman for ousted governor Gray Davis, to the Daily News.
The appearance of support for a particular candidate seems unprecedented for a late-night talk show host, especially one who would want to avoid alienating the half of his audience with opposite political views. Leno's people have rejected suggestions that Leno has been softer on Republicans like Schwarzenegger and President Bush in his jokes than on Democrats. ''You will continue to see him doing Arnold Schwarzenegger jokes,'' NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks told the Washington Post. ''And now that he's governor-elect there will be a lot more jokes. There will be no reprieve for Arnold because of their friendship.''
Leno wasn't the only NBC player at Tuesday's rally. Also present were ''Lyon's Den'' star Rob Lowe (who actively campaigned for Schwarzenegger), ''Access Hollywood'' correspondent Pat O'Brien, and of course, Maria Shriver (who the network has said will be barred from reporting on her husband when she returns to NBC News). ''Leno and Lowe were personally invited to participate [Tuesday] night, so they attended Arnold's victory party in their personal capacity,'' an NBC representative told the Los Angeles Times. ''Does that make NBC an active participant in the campaign? The answer is no.''
One sign that Leno is not in Schwarzenegger's pocket is the clip from the rally that shows a distracted Leno looking at his watch. The governor-elect made fun of that clip during his Wednesday ''Tonight'' appearance. So did David Letterman, who rarely makes on-air jibes about his rival. Scheduled to appear on Letterman's ''Late Show'' on Friday is the defeated Davis, who will read the night's Top 10 list.