When Schwarzenegger announced he was running, Bob White, who had been chief of staff to Wilson, called and invited her to dinner in Brentwood.
"By the way," White told her during the meal, "we're going to drive down the street."
The destination turned out to be the Schwarzenegger mansion. Waiting were the candidate and Shriver. As the group sat on couches and chairs outside, Schwarzenegger told of trying to get a commitment from Shultz to support his candidacy. Shultz asked Schwarzenegger to explain in 30 seconds why he should back him.
"Because I won't spend more than we have," Schwarzenegger said.
"I'm in," Shultz said.
So was Clarey.
After the election, some advisors wanted Schwarzenegger to find an outsized personality for the chief of staff job. Soft-spoken and with no public profile, Clarey wasn't an obvious fit.
Other candidates came with a formidable political base: Bob Hertzberg, who recently ran for mayor of Los Angeles, was a former speaker of the Assembly. Jim Brulte was then the Senate Republican leader, but he was legally barred from serving until his term expired.
Schwarzenegger called a former governor for advice.
"He was asking for suggestions," said Wilson. "I think she had clearly been in his mind. And he was thinking of some other people as well.... And I recommended Pat. I said, 'You're not going to do any better.' "
Politically, Clarey's appointment proved valuable. After his victory, Schwarzenegger was still coping with allegations that he had mistreated or groped women over a period of decades. The Clarey appointment showed that women would assume senior roles in his government.
She came to the job with a long Republican pedigree. A native New Yorker, Clarey worked in the Department of the Interior under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Her older brother, Donald Clarey, works for New York Gov. George Pataki as a housing official.
Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff under President Clinton and now co-chairs a panel Schwarzenegger created to prevent military base closings, said Clarey's job "can be at moments a real high, because you're seeing someone who has a lot of star power.... You can really ride a wave of enthusiasm that is rare in politics.
"At the same time," Panetta said, " ... the chief of staff's job is to keep both feet on the ground and make sure that someone is asking the questions: Are we doing the right thing? Are we in fact telling him what he might not want to hear?"
Plenty of opportunity for that of late. Nurses, teachers, firefighters and a host of consumer and labor groups are furious with Schwarzenegger over his plans to privatize pensions and scale back a promised increase in education funding. They're mounting protests wherever Schwarzenegger goes.
The governor's once-buoyant approval ratings have dipped precipitously. And an ambitious agenda that Schwarzenegger unveiled in his state-of-the-state speech in January has run into trouble.
Last week, he abandoned a major piece of it -- a proposal to convert the state's pension system to 401(k)-style accounts.
Does Clarey tell him what's going wrong?
"Yes, I do that," Clarey says.
At the same time, Clarey has struggled to understand her boss.
Jack Coffey, who manages state relations for ChevronTexaco, says there have been times when he would talk to her and other aides before going in to see Schwarzenegger and it was clear "they didn't really have a feel for" what position he might take.
So she's become something of a student of Schwarzenegger, trying to read his moods and plumb the roots of his celebrity.
"The more I understand him, the better it is for both of us," she said. The governor says she's succeeded. "She has figured me out," Schwarzenegger said. "That's the key thing in this job."
They've developed a routine. The governor is the impetuous one; she's the straight arrow, entertained by his antics.
There was a moment at the White House last month when it looked as if Schwarzenegger might be swiping a bust of Abe Lincoln.
The governor, Clarey and the rest of his entourage were leaving after a session with President Bush's political advisor, Karl Rove. Before reaching the door, Schwarzenegger grabbed the statue off a credenza and started walking off with it.
"When you don't get a gift, you take a gift," Schwarzenegger deadpanned.
Secret Service agents looked startled. What should they do? Wrestle the 16th president from the governor of California?
"It was a stunning moment for people who live in a serious environment," said Clarey.
Watching the scene unfold, she laughed until she was near tears. Schwarzenegger, smiling broadly, returned the artwork. Together they left the West Wing and drove off. Rule No. 3: Let Arnold be Arnold.
"We moved on to the next thing," Clarey said, "which in the world of Arnold could be anything. You walk out the door and you don't know where you're going next."