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Inside Politics

Off Topic: Talking music with Obama, politics with Shaq

Editor's Note: At 10 p.m. ET Sunday, CNN airs "Off Topic With Carlos Watson," a TV special taking the political analyst beyond politics and into the world of business, sports and entertainment. Sunday's lineup features U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama, supermodel Heidi Klum and NBA star Shaquille O'Neal. Below are some highlights from his interview with Obama and O'Neal.

Democrat Barack Obama, the front-runner in the Senate race for Illinois, could be among the best-known freshmen senators if elected.
"Off Topic With Carlos Watson":   10 p.m. ET and PT Sunday

Carlos Watson
'Off Topic'
The Inside Edge
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- While most eyes are focused on the White House, this election is also likely to herald major changes on Capitol Hill.

Control of the Senate could change hands, and there is also the possibility of leadership changes in both houses of Congress.

In addition, expect the arrival of some notable new faces in the House and Senate.

One of the best known new faces -- if he wins -- will be Barack Obama of Illinois. With fewer than two weeks to go, the Democratic National Convention keynote speaker and U.S. Senate candidate leads his opponent Alan Keyes by as much as 40 percentage points in most polls.

I recently sat down with Obama for CNN's television special, "Off Topic With Carlos Watson," airing Sunday.

In keeping with the title, Obama went "off topic" in discussing his unique upbringing, interest in writing and music, and early days as a community organizer.

He also weighed in on issues he might focus on if elected to the Senate next month.

"I teach constitutional law, [and] I'm getting to the age now that I actually know some of the people that they are appointing to these courts, " Obama said. "If they didn't go to school with me, they might have taught me ... and I've got strong opinions about the need to have justices who respect civil rights and civil liberties.

"I don't have a litmus test, but I do expect that there's a core of constitutional values that are going to be upheld in these next series of appointments, and I suspect that I will have something to say about who's going to shape the legal landscape for the next 40, 50 years."

Asked to name which justices would be good models for the type of people he would want to see working with the next administration, Obama said, "Well, obviously, it depends on if John Kerry is president or if George Bush is president. I think that if John Kerry is president then there's a wider range of justices [whom] I think could do a good job.

"I've always felt that someone like [the late Supreme Court Justice] William Brennan, who [was] a real liberal champion for the courts, was one of our greatest jurists, " he said. "But I also respect ... more conservative jurists ... people like [the late Supreme Court Justice] Felix Frankfurter and others who understood the important role of limiting the court's reach and [were] respectful of the other branches of government. So, you know, I don't have a single line that judges have to toe, but if I get a sense that somebody is being appointed just for ideological reasons as opposed to the quality of their thoughts, then I might have some significant objections."

Indeed, while it has not been discussed a great deal, the incoming president and Congress are likely to be engaged in pretty heated debate over Supreme Court justices. Although he would only be a freshman senator, as a constitutional law scholar Obama could play a key role in determining who gets nominated and confirmed.

Other politicians who could play key roles in their first term if elected are Democrat Inez Tenenbaum of South Carolina if she catches up in that race in the final days; and Republican John Thune of South Dakota if he defeats Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle; and Republican House candidate Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Given, the possibility of leadership changes in both the House and the Senate, this year's freshman class could be the most influential rookie class since 1994.

Besides Supreme Court nominations, other significant issues that are likely to be tackled by freshmen are stem cell research, secondary education overhaul, review of the Patriot Act and 9/11 commission reforms.

A new breed of candidates

While 2004 saw relatively little of it, do not be surprised if this election has awakened -- or should I say reawakened -- some unusual political candidacies. In particular, following their active engagement in the 2004 presidential election, do not be surprised if more actors and celebrities declare for office in 2006 and 2008. Besides Arnold Schwarzenegger, will Magic Johnson make a run for office in Los Angeles? Or how about a business celebrity like Meg Whitman of eBay?

One big man who surprised me in saying he is considering running for office is Shaquille O'Neal. The NBA star is also one of my guests Sunday for "Off Topic."

Along with discussing the Kobe Bryant situation and his graduate school work, O'Neal also declares that he is likely to run for office. So will he be part of a celebrity class of 2006 or 2008? Tune in Sunday to find out.

Back to the campaign

With polls showing a volatile race, next week "The Inside Edge" will go in-depth analyzing the last 10 days of the most significant presidential election in a generation.

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