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Inside Politics

The power shift on Capitol Hill

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Carlos Watson listens to the political heartbeat in Missouri in his continuing series.
Watch Carlos Watson at 8 p.m. ET Tuesdays on CNN's Paula Zahn Now and at 5 p.m. ET Fridays on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports.
Carlos Watson
The Inside Edge
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- This week in The Inside Edge, senators take on President Bush, generals are once again in fashion and Sen. John Kerry has a good friend in Iowa.

Senators challenge Bush

During the first three years of the Bush administration, the executive branch was the unquestioned leader of the three pillars of American government.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the White House dictated policy on issues -- from tax cuts and education to pre-emptive war and the Patriot Act.

But with scandal upon scandal plaguing the White House and Bush trying to articulate a clear and convincing plan for Iraq, the president's poll numbers continue to falter.

With the White House vulnerable, an array of members of Congress, particularly senators, have shifted power away from the administration.

Some of the senators come from the president's party. From Sen. Lindsey Graham on Iraqi prisoner abuse to Sen. John McCain on the budget, these lawmakers are driving policy as opposed to reacting to it for the first time since Bush became president.

The rebellion against the White House is likely to grow even stronger this summer as legislative candidates jump into the fray, offering their prescriptions for the nation's major policy questions from health care to international cooperation.

So whether Bush or Kerry wins this fall, expect the next president to be weaker than the one we saw during the first three George W. Bush years.

General mania

One of the legacies of 2004 may be the return of the military general to the political stage. While generals once played a prominent role in American politics -- 12 have been elected president, beginning with George Washington -- no general has had a major electoral impact since Dwight Eisenhower.

In the 1980s, generals became a hot commodity in corporate America. In the 1990s, generals were a hot commodity in education, becoming superintendents of big school districts, such as those in Seattle, Washington, and Washington, D.C.

With the dawn of the age of terror, a variety of perceived failures by America's civilian military leadership in Iraq and the rise of Colin Powell and Wesley Clark, generals may make a comeback in the national political arena.

It's not hard to imagine a variety of generals being drafted by both parties to run in 2006 and beyond. From Eric Shinseki and Anthony Zinni to Anthony Taguba and Barry McCaffrey, all of whom have served tours as star writers, media analysts, whistle-blowers or resolute soldiers, generals are likely to be the next hot commodity in post-2004 politics.

In addition to possible runs for governorships and Senate seats, these soldiers and administrators are also likely to be considered for senior Cabinet posts in either a Bush or Kerry administration -- in both defense and diplomatic roles.

So while they may have lost battles in 2004 -- re: Powell, Clark and Shinseki -- don't be surprised to see the generals dust themselves off and run, run, run in 2006 and beyond.

How the Midwest is won

He has perhaps the most moving personal biography of any of the potential vice presidential candidates. Orphaned on a doorstep by an alcoholic and abusive mother, Tom Vilsack grew up to become a lawyer, state senator and two-term governor of Iowa against all odds.

Credited by some with a strong focus on education and agriculture as governor, Vilsack went from a small state governor to potential VP candidate after this year's Iowa caucuses by rooting for the right man.

While remaining technically neutral, Vilsack's influential wife, Christie, endorsed a then-trailing Kerry in December when almost no one else would. When Kerry ultimately won the caucuses, Vilsack -- like New Hampshire's Sherman Adams in 1952 and John Sununu in 1988 -- immediately went from small state governor to close friend of the nominee.

While Vilsack is one of the hottest VP candidates of the moment, some criticize him as a bit of a tax-and-spend Democrat. Others said they believe he is not the most charismatic campaigner.

But Vilsack does come from both a battleground state (Gore won Iowa by less than 1 percent in 2000) and a battleground region (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, etc.), and Kerry knows that votes in Iowa and the greater Midwest count.

Will Vilsack get the nod? The speculation has certainly helped him and Kerry. Vilsack's stature in Iowa and around the country has gone up, and Kerry is seen as taking Iowa quite seriously.

But in the end, I don't think Vilsack will be chosen. While he would be a fresh face and offer a distinctive Midwestern stamp to the ticket, Vilsack is probably a more likely Cabinet nominee (for example, agriculture or education) if Kerry wins the White House.

Next week, I'll tell you about a public servant whose life was deeply affected first by JFK, then by war and finally by marriage.

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