A political party, if it is going to be successful, has to be more than just a collection of special interests. It has to stand for something that transcends the best interests of the groups that supply its money and its volunteers.
If Democrats somehow hold on to the majority in the United States Senate in November, it will likely be because independent Angus King of Maine wins the seat currently held by Republican Olympia Snow. And if he pulls that off, he just might be providing a blueprint for how to win without backing from a traditional party structure.
Though not affiliated with either party, King supports the Democratic health care reforms and has said he'll vote for President Obama, sending a pretty strong signal that he'll caucus with the Democrats.
King, the former governor who has been out of office for a decade, holds a commanding lead over his two mainline party opponents. He's at 50%, while his GOP challenger has the support of 23% of voters and the Democrat only 9%.
He says he'll "vote my conscience," not adhere to party lines, and has pictures of Bobby Kennedy and Ronald Reagan are hung side by side in his office. While I'm a much bigger fan of Kennedy than I am of Reagan, I like the spirit of that gesture.
Angus King has a reputation for being smart, candid, well versed on the issues and not without a sense of humor.
Wisconsin is a lot like Maine. We like independently and practically minded leaders. We also like people who speak their minds as long as there's something in them. We don't like hard-core ideologues, or acolytes for one party or the other's special interest groups.
Olympia Snow's retirement from the Senate is in itself a tragedy. She was a voice of reason in an increasingly hard-edged environment. In announcing her retirement, she promised to use her $2.4 million campaign fund to rebuild a "sensible center" in American politics, not just back the GOP nominee for her job.
But if Maine replaces her with Angus King and he throws in with them Dems, it would be a terrible mistake for Democrats to read that as anything but a mandate for independence.
A new Democratic party should become the party of practical solutions to real problems, the party that stops the screaming and the divisive partisanship, and tries to discern a public good. Right now, for too many, my party looks like nothing more than a poorly organized confederation of narrow interests.
King met with some Maine fishermen recently and some of them urged him to support the restoration of fishing for striped bass. He told them flat out that he wouldn't.
Voters like it when a politician respects them enough not to pander to them. "I disagreed with you, but I'll vote for you," said Bryan Bichrest, one of the fishermen.
As the Wisconsin Dems search for their next gubernatorial candidate they should look for somebody like Angus King.