Count this newspaper among the Minnesota voices that long for a lessening of partisan polarization and a return to constructive problem-solving in Washington. If demonization of the partisan opposition continues to be the political coin of this realm, effectiveness of American democracy will be diminished.

Independent judgment, exercised on behalf of the best interests of the country and state, is what we hope to see from our U.S. senators. With that hope in mind, this newspaper recommends the reelection of Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

The more independent, pragmatic Coleman emerged when he helped speed money to Minneapolis for a new Interstate 35W bridge; when he promoted tax credits for renewable energy investment; when he pushed for larger Pell Grants for needy college students; when he stood up to President Bush on extending publicly subsidized health insurance, including MinnesotaCare, to more poor children and their parents.

He showed good judgment most recently when, despite a tide of constituent opposition, he voted to authorize spending $700 billion to inject capital into banks and thaw a credit freeze. He rightly judged that quick action was needed to avert serious damage to the nation's economy.

Coleman didn't begin his Senate service as an agent of bipartisanship. But that's the note on which he wound up his six-year term and which he has sounded repeatedly in his reelection campaign. We like the trend we've seen and believe Coleman is capable of taking it further.

As a second-termer in what is likely to be a smaller Republican Senate minority, Coleman may be in line for a more visible and important role than he has yet played. He could be one of a handful of moderate Republican gatekeepers, through whom majority-backed bills must pass in order to achieve the 60 votes required to end Senate debate. He would be positioned to provide a check on Democratic excesses and pull policy to the center. He could even find himself allied with a Democratic president in reining in the spending ambitions of congressional Democrats.

By the same token, a more senior Sen. Coleman would have standing to tug his own party in a less rigid direction. It is with that end in mind that he says he is interested in seeking a campaign leadership post in his party's Senate caucus. Coleman appears to have discovered -- belatedly, but better late than never -- the counterproductivity of harshly negative campaigning.

As a former Democrat, two-term St. Paul mayor and three-time candidate for statewide office in this progressive state, Coleman has learned -- sometimes the hard way -- what Minnesotans want and expect of their political leaders. The leadership qualities that he has developed ought to matter more in this year's election than at other times, when issues might count for more. The world is changing rapidly. Today's issues may not be tomorrow's.

We bank our hope for a less polarized America with Coleman, despite accord with DFL challenger Al Franken on some important issues. However, we consider his recommendation for a "no" vote on the economic bailout package the wrong call at the wrong time.

Franken is a gifted communicator. His best-selling books skewering the Bush administration and the Republican right helped revitalize the Democratic Party when it was on the ropes. He's an effective critic. It isn't as easy to envision him as a constructive force for bipartisan legislation.

Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate, places commendable emphasis on reducing the national debt. After Sen. Paul Wellstone's death, Barkley briefly held the seat Coleman holds now, and served well in that exceptional time. But the better indicator of how he would function over a six-year term isn't those 60 days but the four years of Jesse Ventura's governorship. Barkley was Ventura's closest political adviser, and a cabinet member. It's hard to point to a lasting imprint Barkley made in those years.

In a year when the word "maverick" has become a comedic cue, it's probably just as well that Coleman has not claimed it as his label. But the word fits the independence Coleman has lately displayed in the Senate. He has begun to be "the Minnesota maverick." With our endorsement comes a plea for more of the same.