For those of you that have not heard about this season's election cycle outside of Maine's own ballot, there were a couple of other elections going on Tuesday. Most political junkies and the cable news might have argued that the governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia were critical in demonstrating where the country is headed politically.

They weren't. This is especially true if you consider the fact that since 1978, the political party of Virginia's governor has been the opposite of the White House's without fail and New Jersey has a close but not quite as consistent record. The fact that the Republican candidates in both places won this time around is no surprise.

The only particularly interesting race was in the 23rd Congressional District in New York. A special election was held to replace House Republican John McHugh, whom Obama appointed as the Secretary of the Army. To make a long story short, Republican leadership picked a moderate Republican, Diedre Scozzafava, and the local Conservative party picked a more (for lack of a better word) conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman.

With two candidates on the Right side of the spectrum and a lack of political races to fret over, an otherwise unspectacular race was vaulted to the national stage as various Republican stars and potential candidates for the presidential race in 2012 threw their support behind one of the two candidates on the right. Four days before the election, Scozzafava dropped from the race and endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens, who ended up winning by four points.

This race is worth mentioning not because it was an ideal example of a political party struggling between choosing the electable (and therefore more moderate) candidate and the candidate that was more of an ideologue, but because everyone thought it was. A lone house seat in a barely Republican district that will have another election in a year and a primary even sooner is hardly the largest weather vane by which to judge the country's political winds. But the battle that the Republican Party wanted to have over whether to choose a moderate or hard-line conservative was, for once, even more important than the actual election taking place.

The place of moderates and more staunch ideologues is hardly a new predicament in politics. After all, it's why parties have primaries. No one ever thought John McCain was the ideal conservative that could appease the whole gambit of social, economic and foreign policy Republicans. Arguably, the very reason McCain became the Republican's candidate in 2008 was because he had a real appeal to moderate Democrats and independents in ways that Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee never did.

The problem of moderates v. hard-liners does not end with Republicans either. Most notably with the health care debate, some 52 House Democrats are part of a coalition called the "blue dogs" that come from conservative leaning districts in conservative leaning states. Throughout the health care debate, these moderate Democrats have threatened again and again to oppose versions of a bill that the more liberal members of Congress want.

So what do we do? Is it best to try and elect those that stick hard to the party line? Or is someone that's willing to compromise and form an imperfect consensus a better choice?

Unsurprisingly, there is no simple answer, but we need more moderates and moderate-minded politicians on Capitol Hill than we have today. Consider health care: Olympia Snowe, Senator from Maine, has had real—though at times tenuous—influence on health care legislation because she agreed to vote for it as a member of the Senate Finance Committee. Some of this is because her own ideology is closer to the center of the road and the health care legislation being proposed is less distasteful to her than it is to some of her more conservative colleagues. But it is also in part because she realizes that the passage of a health care bill is a very possible reality and she'd rather be a part of the conversation, pushing parts of the legislation in a direction that she favors, than exclude herself from the process.

Imagine with me for a moment a world in which health care passed the Senate with 70 or 80 votes (meaning 10 to 20 Republicans voted for it along with 60 Democrats). These Republicans wouldn't like some of the provisions in the bill, but by agreeing to vote for it, would be able to have a real impact on moderating some of the bill's language and even potentially including some things (like tort reform) that they wanted to see as part of the legislation. It would still be a bill dominated by Democrat's ideas, but it could be done in consultation with and reaction to input from the other side of the isle. What a bizarre, kumbaya world that would be.

Except it doesn't have to be an imaginary world. What if 10 Republican Senators approached Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, and said they would vote for a health care bill so long as the public option was on a trigger? (A trigger in this context would mean that the public option would only come into effect assuming a certain set of criteria weren't met in a certain period of time.)

For instance, if premiums didn't stop their precipitous climb sometime in the next four years, the public option might activate, or trigger. How tempted would Reid be? And how much could the more staunchly liberal Senators complain about a public option with a trigger, since the rest of their legislation was getting through untouched? This specific suggestion might not pass a reality check for a variety of good reasons, but the sentiment holds true.

I realize that this is bad politics. The standard playbook calls for the minority party to be as obstinate as possible while the majority party tries to push the country hard toward its side of the political spectrum. And, quite frankly, such a bifurcated approach works sometimes. But with such a game plan we lose an honest national discourse and legislators pass up real opportunities to work around something other than the "D" or "R" after their name.

Electing more moderate candidates and allowing both parties to compromise more on legislation could turn every bill into piecemeal and mean that Congress never does anything but shift the laws ever so slightly to the Right or Left.

For some reason though, I'm just not worried that Republicans and Democrats will listen to each other too much and work together on legislation too well. Our country needs staunch conservatives and liberals to keep the debate wide-ranging and honest; our fringes help define our center. But being a moderate does not have to mean being without standards. It simply means being realistic.

Joe Babler is a member of the Class of 2010.