Angus King wins. Maine sends new voice of moderation to Senate.

A popular former governor, independent Angus King replaces retiring moderate Republican Olympia Snowe. King says he hopes to help break the gridlock in Washington.

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
Independent Angus King celebrates under a splash of champagne after winning the Senate seat vacated by Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Tuesday in Freeport, Maine.

In a nation of deep partisan divides, you can chalk up one new senator-elect who's neither a Democrat nor Republican.

That would be Angus King, independent, from the state of Maine.

A popular former governor, Mr. King won decisively enough that Maine's was one of the first Senate race results to be called on Election Night.

The seat was open because Sen. Olympia Snowe, part of a fast-fading breed of moderate Republicans, decided to retire at the end of her term. She cited frustration with the increasingly bitter climate in Washington, with less cooperating and legislating occurring across party lines. Some other Republican incumbents have been pushed aside in primaries by more conservative rivals from within, fueled by the tea party movement.

Against this backdrop, King's win appears for now to be the exception that proves the rule. Congress remains for now a place of sharp rifts between the parties.

At the same time, his victory symbolizes the fact that moderates or independents can still win under the right conditions. In fact, public opinion polls this year have found that Americans are hungry for more bipartisan cooperation and compromise on issues such as taxes, spending, and federal deficits.

King says he's eager to not only serve his state in Washington, but also to be an advocate for efforts to break the gridlock.

As an independent, he says he'll talk with members of both parties to decide which side to "caucus" with, a decision that could open the door for him to play a role on Senate committees and could signal which party he feels most at home with.

Asked in a broadcast interview Tuesday night if he would end up caucusing with Democrats, he refused to make even a tentative prediction. "That decision is going to be made after some discussions in Washington."

The replacement of Senator Snowe with another moderate from Maine is not that surprising. The state has long had an independent streak in its politics.

King beat Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill.

"I am not bound by the ideology of a party," King asserted in his campaign. "I make decisions based on the facts, after talking with people who would be affected."

Several of his campaign positions represent a frontal assault on current congressional culture:

• Reforming campaign finance laws. King argues against out-of-state money in campaigns, and calls for mandatory disclosure of donors. He called the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling "one of the worst decisions in the Court’s history," opening floodgates of political action committee money form hidden donors.

• Supporting a “No Budget, No Pay Act.” Lawmakers wouldn't be paid if they can't pass a federal budget.

• Reforming the filibuster. "The Senate’s recent overuse of the filibuster has stalled progress on practically every issue of importance in America," King asserted on his campaign website. "The 60-vote requirement that it creates is not in the Constitution."

Among the reform options, he says, would be limiting the number of times per session a party can use the filibuster, or lowering the threshold to end debate down to 55 votes.

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