Over the past few weeks, I have found it nearly impossible to watch any video on YouTube without first being assaulted by an attack ad from the campaign of either Elizabeth Warren or Scott Brown. With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, this fiercely contested race has garnered more coverage than almost any other in the country. There is no doubt that the outcome of this race will have a huge impact on whether the next president will be able to carry out his agenda effectively. Yet travel a few hours north, and you will encounter a Senate race that just might have a more long lasting impact.
When Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) announced her retirement last February, political commentators mourned the loss of a moderate stalwart in the Senate. Throughout her tenure, Senator Snowe always stood for pragmatism and bi-partisanship, even forming a part of the Gang of 14, the group of senators that successfully ended the gridlock over President Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court. It was the growth of this very same gridlock that Senator Snowe cited as the reason for her departure. As a moderate Republican in the Senate, the senator was a member of a very small club, one that seemed to get smaller every election cycle. The rise of the Tea Party made targets out of Republican senators who strayed from conservative principles and made a habit of reaching across the aisle (gasp!). This new trend ended the political careers of several Republican senators, including Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and the late Arlen J. Specter (R-Penn.), both moderates who lost tight primary races against more conservative opponents. In left-leaning Maine, however, Senator Snowe was virtually guaranteed re-election, which only serves to show just how inhospitable the Senate had become to moderates like her.
Fortunately, soon after her announcement, a candidate entered the race that promised to continue Senator Snowe’s legacy of moderation. With less than a week before Election Day, Angus King, the mustachioed former governor of the state, seems a lock to be the next Senator from Maine. Running as an Independent, King has the potential to be even more bipartisan than his predecessor. His positions show that he might be a true maverick in the Senate in the mould of John McCain before his turn to the right in the 2008 campaign left the term devoid of almost all meaning. On healthcare, King backs Obama’s reform, but concedes that it could use improvements. On financial reform, he has come out against the Dodd-Frank Act, which the President touts on the campaign trail as one of his most important achievements. After serving as governor, King co-founded a wind power company and served on the board of directors of a natural gas engineering company, showing his commitment to an energy policy that makes use of a diversity of sources.
On the most important issue that will face the next Congress, King has taken a responsible position by endorsing the Simpson-Bowles commission report as the basis for any meaningful fiscal reform. One of the co-chairs of the commission, Erskine B. Bowles, has endorsed King saying that he is in “a unique position to bridge the partisan divide and negotiate a solution to the debt crisis.”
Beyond policies, King’s calm demeanor could also help cool our nation’s political rhetoric. His campaign ads conspicuously lack the ominous voiceover that seems to be the staple of most ads this election season. When Republican-affiliated groups attacked his record as governor, King did not respond in kind. Instead, he aired an ad in which he looked directly at the camera and reassured voters that he is not the Godzilla portrayed by attacks against him. In fact, all of King’s ads follow the same simple formula: just him in front of a camera speaking to voters. His ads do not feature any soundtracks, photo ops, or any other clichés of the political ad genre.
King, however, will face some difficulties due to his Independent status. Unless he caucuses with whichever party ends up in the majority (more likely than not, the Democrats), it is unlikely that he will receive his favored committee assignments. He will have to avoid the temptation of locking himself into a partisan label, so that he can more effectively bring the ever more divided Senate closer together. King has already shown that he is willing to fill this role through his pledge to work on a reform of the filibuster, the Senate parliamentary rule that often brings the parties to an impasse.
With the average poll giving King a fifteen-point lead over his Republican opponent, it seems voters in Maine will continue their tradition of sending moderates to the Senate. Olympia Snowe’s retirement, which at first seemed like a tragedy, just might be a blessing in disguise. Come January, King will bring a new centrist vigor to the Senate. We can only hope that the rest of Congress will be inspired by King’s independence and come together to solve the serious problems that our nations faces.
José I. Robles ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Eliot House.