HOTSEAT- Candidate Clark: Novice plays big-league politics

Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark had just finished a debate with 5th District incumbent Congressman Tom Perriello, and afterward, says Clark, Perriello's mom came over and told him he was really nice.

"I've never been a believer that you have to be rude or mean," says Clark. "I believe in civil discourse."

It's getting a chance at civil discourse in the 5th District race that's tricky for Clark. Throughout the Republican primary with its six candidates, Clark vowed to run if State Senator Robert Hurt won the nomination. Hurt won and has steadfastly refused to a three-man debate with Clark in the picture.

Clark insists his campaign is not a vendetta against Hurt. "He seems like a nice guy," says Clark. "This isn't a grudge against Robert Hurt."

But Clark seems to have a beef with the Republican Party, which sees itself, Clark believes, as the "dictator of the conservative point of view." He also holds that the party picked Hurt long before the primary.

Things started to get really ugly when word of Clark's 1993 Chapter 7 bankruptcy in North Carolina and trail of unpaid bills were leaked to the media–- with his and his wife's Social Security numbers on the documents. "I had back surgery," says Clark. "It was not a matter of us spending beyond our means. It was a matter of me being hospitalized."

Clark offered to withdraw from the race if whoever leaked his financial travails owned up. That didn't happen. 

"We're still in the race," he says. "I wasn't trying to hide [the bankruptcy]. There's millions of Americans who had had to take that path."

The Tidewater-raised Clark says that politics was never an ambition, although he'd always enjoyed discussing issues. During the Bush administration, he became dissatisfied with what he calls its "fiscal irresponsibility," and the seed was planted. Once the Democrats took power, he noticed a pattern.

"Einstein's definition of insanity kept popping in my head–- 'Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,'" explains Clark. "First the Republicans are elected, then the Democrats, and they're both doing the same thing over and over."

One other thing in the political landscape that sent Clark to collecting signatures on a petition: "Observing the fear. Watching people make decisions based on fear. Watching people allow the rhetoric of fear to influence their decisions." 

He concedes he's not a fan of independent candidates, but calling him a spoiler is just buying into the "circular logic" of fear, he says.

After years in the hospitality business, the Clarks moved to Danville seven years ago and opened a home-inspection business that was followed by a water testing company. One of his four children has served in Afghanistan.

If elected to Congress, Clark pledges take only half his pay. "That would be my incentive to come back home," he says, maintaining that the Founding Fathers didn't want elected officials to be as cozily ensconced in Washington as some seem to be.

Trailing both Hurt and Perriello in fund raising by six-figure sums, Clark maintains an idealism worthy of Mr. Smith. "If I allow myself for a moment to believe elections are about money alone," he says, "I wouldn't do this. The idealist part of me needs to embrace the fact that a good message will trump the amount of money."

Age: 45

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The history, the beautiful scenery, and the great restaurants.

Least? Difficult to find fellow conservatives.

Favorite hangout here? The plaza downtown reminds me of the walk platz in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Most overrated virtue? Unity

People would be surprised to know about you: I am an amateur inventor.

What would you change about yourself? Lose 50 pounds or so. Thought I would lose weight during this campaign, but it just has not worked out that way.

Proudest accomplishment? Serving my country.

People find most annoying about you: My persistence

Whom do you admire? Very long list but I truly admire Thomas Jefferson.

Favorite book? The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek

Subject that causes you to rant? The Redskins and career politicians

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Grandkids

Biggest 21st-century creep out? That I am old enough to have grandkids.

What do you drive? 2006 Toyota Highlander hybrid with 225,000 miles. Yes I drive a lot.

In your car CD player right now: Hanks Williams III, Billy Joel, and several mixed CDs

Next journey? My wife and I had planned to visit Scotland for our 25th wedding anniversary but due to                                                                     the downturn in the economy we have had to postpone.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Suspended licenses about 20 years ago.

Regret: Filing bankruptcy in 1993 and that my medical condition and resulting bills have caused my family financial hardship.

Favorite comfort food: Chili dog & Coke Icee

Always in your refrigerator: Milk & lunch meat

Must-see TV: Law and Order SVU, Big Bang, Chuck, Glen Beck, Boston Legal, Snapped

Describe a perfect day. Grandkids storming into our room first thing in the morning, jumping on our bed sharing their most recent story or informing of us of the excitement that lies in store for my wife and me if we would just get out of bed.

Walter Mitty fantasy: To be a world famous inventor and philanthropist

Who'd play you in the movie? John Travolta (later years), more specifically as seen in From Paris with Love.

Most embarrassing moment? Having my pants split in the middle of a shift managing a restaurant and having to wait until my wife could arrive with another pair of pants.

Best advice you ever got? To understand what a person appreciates, observe the things they do for others.

Favorite bumper sticker? "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples' money,"