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The media love to cover radical and somewhat wacky candidates like Carl Paladino, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Rand Paul. But lost in all that finger-pointing is the fact that in Pennsylvania, a Senate candidate who in any other year would be among the most conservative in the country is on a glide path to take Arlen Specter's old seat. Pat Toomey, a former congressman and longtime president of the far-right "Club for Growth," has led Dem Rep. Joe Sestak in the polls for months. And despite some apparent tightening in recent weeks, polling guru Nate Silver gives Toomey an incredible 92 percent chance of winning the race.
Christine O'Donnell will almost certainly not be in the Senate in January. Carl Paladino probably won't be governor of New York. And Silver gives Toomey a better chance of winning that either Angle or Paul. Yet Toomey's radicalism has received relatively little national attention. Make no mistake: Toomey is incredibly conservative. A Pollster.com analysis of Toomey's votes in the House of Representatives found that he was more conservative than 97.9 percent of all members of Congress (House and Senate) since 1995. Using DW-Nominate scores, a common measure of liberalism or conservatism, Pollster's Harry Enten found that Toomey would be the second-most conservative Senator in the current US Senate—to the right of Jim DeMint and behind only Oklahoma's Tom Coburn. Yet this is a man who is leading dramatically in the polls in a state that has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate since 1992—and went for Obama by 10 percent.
Considering that Pennsylvania is heavily unionized—it has a higher percentage of union members than all but 13 other states—Toomey's virulently anti-labor record is particularly notable. Arlen Specter, the Republican whom Toomey primaried in 2004 (and chased out of the Democratic party in 2009), tried to cultivate a reputation as a friend of the unions over his nearly three decades as a GOP Senator. Toomey has made no such efforts. He has a lifetime 7 percent voting record from the AFL-CIO.
The rest of Toomey's record is just as conservative. While Toomey was running the Club for Growth, the conservative group spent $10 million pushing George W. Bush's unpopular, failed plan to privatize Social Security so that people could gamble their Social Security money in the stock market. He also supported reducing the tax rates for corporations—including Wall Street banks—to zero. And as a member of Congress, Toomey pushed hard for financial deregulation—especially of the derivatives products that he used to trade. More on that in my story today. Check it out.