Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He is Editor-in-Chief of “The Moderate Voice,” an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Is there a King-sized political summer for independents at the end of Maine's long season of Snowe?
Those who believe our two political parties are increasingly predictable, non-and-counter productive and rhetorically toxic may have reason to hope. The eyes of independents are on Maine and the Senate bid of former independent Governor Angus King, who's running to replace disgusted-with-the-partisanship, retiring moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe.
Why? Two reasons. 1.) King seems to be the one of the most authentically independent politicians in years. 2.) King is decimating his partisan opponents in a new poll.
The poll by Maine People's Resource Center, finds 56 percent would vote today for King, 21 percent for the Republican, 12.2 percent for the Democrat and 10 percent would be undecided. To be sure, one third of Maine's voters aren't affiliated with either major political party. But this kind of a lead by someone who is an authentic independent, versus a celebrity using his branding to run as an independent or a partisan exiled from his own party and forced to run as an independent, is big news.
The poll is especially delicious for independents, because the argument had been that King would be (surprise!) a spoiler in the race between the two main parties. The Portland Press Herald reported: "A run by King as an independent for the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine is sparking fears among some Democrats that the socially liberal former two-term governor could siphon off enough votes from a Democratic Senate nominee to throw the election to the GOP candidate." The poll makes that inoperative.
CNN's John Avlon recently did a fascinating interview with King, who came across as a truly independent public servant, not someone mouthing partisan talking points or regurgitating Right or Left talk-show-host rants. Avlon offers this telling King quote on his web site: "I'm too fiscally conservative for the Democrats and too socially liberal for the Republicans, like 75 percent of the American people."
In recent years, for every independent politician that makes it to power, there seem to be two who made independent politicians seem as embarrassing as professional partisan political hacks. Nothing has been more frustrating to many independents then the inability to get independents in power who don't set back the argument for more independents in office.
To be sure, there is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But then there was wrestler Jesse Ventura elected as Minnesota's independent governor. Ventura ended up being a political flop most celebrated these days as a charismatic former wrestler and former politician who writes books suggesting conspiracy theories. And don't even talk to Californians about actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who replaced hapless Democrat Grey Davis in a 2003 recall. Once again: high hopes, mega-hype and humiliating political failure. Schwarzenegger left office considered one of the worst governors in California history. His performance as a politician was even more wooden than his acting.
Some independents (my personal favorite independent, Connecticut's Lowell Weicker, plus Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski) became independents after losing support in their own parties. They were perceived as politicians seeking an alternative way to continue in power. Congress' longest serving independent member, Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders is considered a leftist Democrat (who notably gets virtually unlimited time on liberal talk shows).
King is different. He served two terms as Maine's 72nd Governor and (unlike Schwarzenegger and Ventura) was extremely popular. Now the question becomes: Yeah, but if he's elected, which party would he caucus with? I predict he'll choose and still appear independent: he's NOT a celebrity who won office with lots of hype and image but no real political skills when it came to piecing together legislative victories, competently serving constituencies, or surviving in sea of political sharks.
Could it be that as America hurtles into a notably mean-spirited, tribalistic and polarized 21st Century that there could be a new breed of politician on the horizon? Could King become a new independent political role model in a time when partisanship is king?
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at email@example.com. His column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.