King said he was "neither arrogant enough nor naïve enough" to think he can single-handedly ease Washington's partisanship. But he believes there is a "nascent moderate caucus" of senators from both parties "who realize that things are not going right." In a closely divided Senate, that group could be "very influential."
King will not say which party he will caucus with, if elected, but in this year's presidential election, he is backing Obama. He said Mitt Romney's failure to support the bailout of the auto industry or the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, as well as his hawkish foreign policy advisers, worry him.
At the same time, he opposes some of Obama's signature decisions, including Dodd Frank financial industry regulations, the troop surge in Afghanistan and the president's own failure to embrace Simpson-Bowles as a bipartisan compromise. King said he would have supported the 2009 stimulus and Obamacare as imperfect answers to dire problems.
On the economy, King accuses both parties of embracing false "silver bullets." Liberal calls for increased stimulus spending and conservative calls for tax cuts are not panaceas. He says the government should spend heavily on infrastructure, research and development and education, but end its role there.
"We need the federal government to provide infrastructure and leadership on issues like education and research," he said. "But in the long run the federal government cannot be the creator of jobs."
As both parties become more partisan, according to King, they are driving "whole swathes" of voters to become independents.
"They have essentially purged or otherwise narrowed their bases," he said. "But by doing that they've pushed a lot of people toward the center."
King is leading in the polls and Maine political scientists say the race, for now, is his to lose. But with control of the Senate potentially at stake, both national parties -- and so-called Super PACs -- are expected to savage the Maine independent. King, meanwhile, promises to not run a single negative ad.
Ronald Schmidt, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine, said that the state's Tea-Party backed governor is creating a new style of politics in Maine. Governor LePage, who is also a deft politician, may be calculating that having a small but highly motivated base may be enough to again defeat a divided opposition. If a centrist like King is going to win Maine's Senate race, Schmidt said, moderates need to be as motivated as Tea Party members.
"Can the moderate Republicans organize themselves that well?" Schmidt asked. "Can the moderate Democrats?"
This year pundits and the media will rightly focus on the presidential race. But elections like this one are hugely important as well. Whether an Obama or Romney administration takes office in January 2013, they will face a dysfunctional Congress unable to enact desperately needed reforms. Sending moderates like King to Washington and ending our poisonous, take-no-prisoners politics is vital.
This state's pragmatic, non-partisan tradition -- and King -- is deeply appealing to me. In November, I hope King still appeals to Maine voters as well.
This article also appeared on Reuters.com, an Atlantic partner site.