Bipartisan politics, recently thought to be near death, may revive.

National public opinion surveys continue to show that more than a third of the electorate consider themselves to be moderates. And most people say they want partisan wars to give way to compromises that produce results.

The polls also show that voters hold Republicans more responsible for Washington gridlock than President Barack Obama or the Democrats.

The message of these surveys may be getting through to some Republicans.

The New York Times reported this week that some GOP congressional candidates are now claiming that they can work with the president and the Democrats. Some are Tea Party candidates who first ran in 2010 strongly opposing the Democrats.

One U.S. representative was quoted as asserting that she had voted with Obama one-third of the time. That probably meant she supported bills naming post offices and some minor appointments, but not any administration health care bill or tax proposal.

Others try to show how they work with Democratic colleagues from adjoining districts. Working together on pork-barrel bills is hardly a sign of real bipartisanship.

Still, the mere fact that some candidates now want to stress their ability to get along with the opposition may be significant.

If Obama looks headed toward victory, Republican candidates could believe that partisanship should give way to listening to the many voters who favor moderate compromises.

Of course, the test would come if these incumbent GOP representatives were asked to be more specific about where they would work with the president. An answer that revealed a willingness to depart from doctrinaire positions on specific issues could show they mean what they say.

Take for example the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan proposals to cut the deficit. Though it called for steep spending cuts, tea party House Republicans, led by now-vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, opposed them because they did not eliminate Obama’s health program.

Obama failed to adopt those proposals, a position which he may have come to regret. He disliked the idea that some middle class taxes might rise, and he thought that he could gain political advantage by this stance.

Suppose that some House Republicans now said they would support the deficit-cutting proposals if Obama did. Suppose also that Obama were asked again.

Not only would the political campaign become more interesting, but also it might give some hope that Washington is ready for compromise instead of continued stalemate.

Nowhere is the question of a moderate alternative to political partisanship being tested more clearly than in the Maine race for the U.S. Senate.

The three-way contest among Democrat Cynthia Dill, Republican Charlie Summers and independent Angus King provides all three choices.

Dill is running a classic Democratic campaign, stressing the key issues that are closely identified with congressional Democrats and the president. In a state likely to vote for Obama, she appears as his supporter.

She criticizes King for his failure to agree with Democratic policies.

Summers is running a classic Republican campaign, stressing the key issues that are closely identified with congressional Republicans who strongly oppose the president. In a state that long voted for Republican Olympia Snowe, he appears as a GOP loyalist.

He criticizes King for agreeing too often with Democratic policies.

The Republican establishment also wants to make King out to be a crypto-Democrat, hoping to split the opposition vote.

These partisan views implicitly reject the possibility that many Maine people, like those in other states, are looking for moderation and bipartisanship.

Vote for either Dill or Summers, and you can have one of the two party players who are faithful to the positions taken by their congressional parties during the past two years.

King could be the third-party embodiment of moderation. Even though the Republicans are trying to push him into the Democratic camp, the Democrats’ candidate rejects him. While many of his positions favor the Democrats, he seems willing to consider middle-of-the-road positions.

He does not endorse Simpson-Bowles, undoubtedly concerned that such a position would lose him support among people who might pay more under the plan.

His reluctance to commit on such key bipartisan positions leaves his adherence to moderate approaches not fully convincing. Voters are asked to trust that his actions will match his promises.

Time remains in the campaign for King to convince voters that he has not only the political vision but also the political courage to be the true moderate many seem to want and that he seems to want to be.

There’s also time for Dill, Summers, and party candidates across the country, to show in concrete terms if they are willing to depart from party conformity and compromise with the opposition on key issues.

— Gordon L. Weil is an author, publisher, consultant, and former official of international organizations and the U.S. and Maine governments.



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