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Inside Politics

A change of pace, a new face and an interesting race

The 9/11 commission heard controversial testimony last week.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger
Barbara Boxer
Bill Jones
John F. Kerry

PALO ALTO, California (CNN) -- This week in The Inside Edge: A commission with a mission, a way to Washington for Gov. Schwarzenegger and a new political role for the Supreme Court.

We also disclose the possible vice-presidential nominee hinted at last week and give you a chance to guess another.

Out of commission

While it's likely to be lost in the controversy over Condoleezza Rice and Richard Clarke, something very good happened during last week's 9/11 commission hearings.

The public embarrassment that both Democrats and Republicans felt last week as the Clinton and Bush administrations pointed fingers at one another, should help prod more behind- the-scenes cooperation between the FBI and CIA as well as bipartisan efforts on border protection, increased port and train inspections, and even chemical and nuclear plant inspections. Indeed, expect some major announcements this fall from the White House and Congress on improved domestic security measures.

So while most commissions are often derided as a waste of time, this one should at least make the country a little bit safer.

The Jones for Arnold

In California, an intriguing Senate race is under way as two-term incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, faces former Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones. The race is as much a test of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's future as Jones'.

Can the former actor revive the Republican Party in the nation's largest state? We probably won't know in time for it to matter to President Bush. The president is unlikely to spend a lot of time or money on a state that he lost by 12 points in 2000.

Even without Bush, the California Senate race could still have an impact on presidential politics -- in 2008.

If Jones wins, expect the new senator to offer a serious and well-supported constitutional amendment to allow certain foreign-born citizens to run for president. Indeed, the 2004 Senate race in California could be viewed as a warm-up presidential run for Schwarzenegger.

Courting the vote

As the presidential election revs up, expect to hear a lot more about the Supreme Court in coming months. While it is usually a back burner issue, for the first time in more than 30 years, expect the Supreme Court to be a major part of the presidential campaign.

It's been almost a decade since a justice was appointed -- the longest such gap between appointments since the 1820s. With an aging, and sometimes ailing court, the next president may have an opportunity to appoint as many as three new justices to the closely divided nine-member court. (See chart on number of appointments by president)

In doing so, he would likely form a new court majority which could lead to very different decisions on some of the most heated issues of the day -- gay rights, abortion, civil rights and the war on terror. Recognizing the explosiveness of a major change in gay marriage or abortion, both campaigns as well as key interest groups will increasingly make the looming vacancies an issue.

Indeed when all is said and done, perhaps no issue will motivate hard-left and hard-right voters as much this year as the desired composition of the next court.

Guess who?

Last week, I promised to reveal the first of 10 possible vice-presidential picks for John Kerry. I told you it was a little-known, former Clinton official who could radically shake up the race. A few more clues: He was a finance Cabinet member, a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar. He has been a partner at a big Wall Street investment bank and CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Robert Rubin you say?

Nope, try Franklin Raines, who headed the Budget Office (OMB) under President Clinton and balanced the budget in the mid-1990s, helping to pave the way for the sustained economic growth of the late '90s.

Currently the CEO of home-financing giant Fannie Mae, Raines' personal story reads like a Horatio Alger novel. Born to a poor family in the projects of Seattle, he won a scholarship to Harvard, became a partner at Wall Street investment bank Lazard Freres, and in 1999 became the first African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

With his economic track record, Raines would bolster Kerry's plan for fiscal discipline, give him a rock-solid, trustworthy type for his number two and excite progressive voters and African-American voters.

A "Raines bump" in turnout as the first African-American on a major ticket -- 70 percent turnout among African-Americans instead of 40 percent - 50 percent -- could all but cinch the battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania for Kerry and make him the odds-on favorite in Florida. Even states like Georgia could come into play, thereby re-shaping the entire dynamic of the race.

Conventional wisdom -- Raines' lack of electoral experience and name recognition -- says it's not going to happen. But remember recent history -- the early favorites have not been chosen as vice president in the last 16 years. Instead, the tickets have been filled with surprises from Quayle to Cheney. So stay tuned.

Next week, I'll profile a former pro-life lawyer who could help Kerry lock up the Midwest.

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