There's more to Election Day than just the presidential campaign. The polarization of the parties has led directly to the divided and dysfunctional Congress we've seen over the past two years, leading to the lowest congressional approval ratings in recent history.
No matter who wins the presidency, we need to see more principled problem-solving centrists elected from both parties.
That's why I'm continuing my pre-election CNN.com column tradition of listing some of the most standout centrist Senate and House candidates on the ballot this year.
Centrism is one of most misunderstood and maligned political identities in our polarized hyper-partisan environment. Its advocates have been hunted into near-extinction on Capitol Hill by party-first conformists, angry ideologues and special interests.
But a look over this list shows a deeper philosophic consistency beyond party labels -- a commitment to generational responsibility and individual liberty that can be fairly described as fiscally conservative but socially liberal.
Most of all, there is a common commitment to working together across party lines to solve problems rather than holding out for ideologically pure solutions. For a more detailed defense of the legitimacy of this political perspective, David Brooks gave a typically eloquent explanation of the centrist political leader as a craftsman in a must-read column.
The 10 standout centrist candidates on this list are independents, Republicans and Democrats who all recognize that hyper-partisanship is hurting our country because it is stopping us from solving the serious problems we face.
That's why we need them in the next Congress -- to break the fever of division and dysfunction, define the common ground that exists on the urgent issues we face and then build on them. Their success in the 2012 election would be a healthy step forward for the nation.
This independent's Senate campaign in Maine is the biggest nonpresidential race in the nation for many independent voters -- a gutsy challenge to the two parties that looks like it will prove successful. King has described himself as "too fiscally conservative for the Democrats and too socially liberal for the Republicans -- like 75% of the American people."
He proved his effectiveness in two terms as a popular independent governor of Maine in the 1990s. Now he is the odds-on favorite to succeed retiring centrist Republican Olympia Snowe in the Senate. If the Senate is closely divided, he could be the deciding vote. King has told me about his vision to bring together a coalition of senators in the vital center to break gridlock.
"What if two or three other people like me around the country were elected who said: 'I don't care about the parties -- I just want to solve the problems ... We're going start talking to each other in a grown-up and civil way." Here's hoping.
The Medal of Honor winner, Nebraska governor, senator, presidential candidate and college president would return to Washington as an elder statesman committed to building bipartisan coalitions. He is one of the most respected and best liked political leaders of recent decades.
His opponent, social conservative state senator Deb Fischer, rode to victory in the Republican primary thanks to endorsements by the likes of Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint.
"Somebody has to go back there and change Congress. Somebody has to stand the middle ground," Kerrey says. "I want to be the person that makes that change happen." This election is close in a center-right state, and former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's endorsement of Democrat Kerrey on Thursday provided another boost. Having Kerrey back in the senate would be a win not just for the people of Nebraska, but for the entire country.
A former congresswoman, Air Force officer and Rhodes Scholar, the New Mexico Republican would be an excellent addition to the U.S. Senate and the Republican conference. She won more than 40% of the Hispanic vote in each of her six congressional races. But with the polarization of the Hispanic population over neighboring Arizona's immigration laws, New Mexico has moved from bellwether swing state to the Democratic column.
So, Wilson is flying against stiff headwinds. But she's a big-tent, pro-choice Republican -- fiscally conservative, centrist on social issues and strong on defense -- with a demonstrated ability to win over independent voters. Her biggest problem is the rightward drift of the GOP and the consequent alienation of the Hispanic vote in a presidential year. But she would make a great senator that New Mexico would be proud of for decades to come.
The Indiana Democrat is running to replace centrist Republican statesman Dick Lugar in the Senate against the tea party-backed Republican nominee Richard Mourdock.
A three-term Congressman with a decidedly centrist record, Donnelly has been arguing that Mourdock is too extreme for Indiana -- with plenty of help from Mourdock himself. From Mourdock's saying that bipartisanship "ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view," to slamming centrists in the Senate by arguing that "the time for collegiality is past ... it's time for confrontation," to his now infamous comments that pregnancies that result from rape are "God's will," Mourdock has managed to find himself losing a Senate race in a state that Mitt Romney is winning easily.
Hoosiers don't seem to want an embarrassing advocate of extremism in the Senate. They'd do better with Donnelly.
It takes an impressive person to win Hawaii's governorship as a Republican, but former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle managed to distinguish herself as a successful and popular leader during her two terms, while breaking down barriers as the first woman and first Jewish governor of the Aloha State.