THIS CAMPAIGN season has been one of extremes: extreme candidates making extreme claims about what's wrong with the country and how to fix it.

To us, the most extreme claim is that the government had no business spending $787 billion on the Recovery Act when the free market would have done a better job correcting the economic meltdown. Especially since the free, unregulated market helped cause the meltdown, triggered by banks that pushed toxic mortgages and then sold them bundled as securities.

Also extreme are the views that health-care reform represents too much government. The health-care bill is nowhere near good enough but without it, costs will skyrocket even further and even more American lives will be ruined.

Joe Sestak is not extreme. He has a better understanding of how complex our problems are, and how unsimple its solutions. That's why we're endorsing him for Senate.

Sestak is a tenacious candidate who earlier this year defied his party and slew the giant Arlen Specter. We think this speaks volumes about his potential for being a truly independent thinker in the Senate. And we think he'll be equally tenacious on behalf of the working and middle class. That tenacity will be key asset, no matter the full outcomes of Tuesday.

Candidate Pat Toomey is smart and thoughtful; we liked some of his ideas. But he holds to an extreme gospel of the free market.

We, too, believe in the free market, to the extent that its first obligation is to expanding itself and its profits. But the first obligation of government, at least in theory, is to the people, and so we trust it more to represent our interests and protect our liberties.

Limiting taxation can absolutely create or preserve jobs, but it's not an either/or: the $787 billion stimulus bill was necessary to infuse cash and movement into a credit-frozen economy; it created three million jobs and saved another eight million.

Toomey is among many Republican and tea party candidates espousing small government without being specific about what that really means. (And not acknowledging the irony of running to be part of the government they want to abolish.) Toomey, a conservative Republican, favors "economic freedom," but he's unwilling to extend freedom to, say, women who want abortions, or sick people who would lose their health care if he helped to repeal health-care reform.

Retired admiral Sestak has the kind of leadership resume that will be important in the new Congress. We support his reasonable views on gun control and his emphasis on small business. We've just ended a bitter season of partisan divides. Sestak has the maturity and breadth to help bridge those divides. *