FORT VALLEY - Ask Vernon Jones which political figures he admires and he answers without a pause: World War II Army General George Patton.
'He got the job done,' said DeKalb County's chief executive officer. 'And he wasn't in it to win a popularity contest.'
The same could be said for Jones.
Jones has won praise for his stewardship of one of Georgia's largest counties, which even many critics say has thrived under his watch.
But he's also ruffled feathers throughout 16 years in public life. A litany of personal foibles and what some describe as a bullying personality have often overshadowed his political skill.
Jones, 47, argues the criticism of him has been overblown by the 'liberal media.' He's responded by campaigning for the U.S. Senate by taking his case directly to voters, many outside his metro Atlanta base.
'All I ask is that people look at my record,' Jones said in an interview with The Associated Press. 'What does my personal life have to do with people losing their jobs? Who can't afford gasoline? Who are losing their homes?'
His message appears to be resonating. Jones was the top vote-getter in the five-man Democratic U.S. Senate primary July 15. He now faces former state lawmaker Jim Martin in Tuesday's runoff. The winner will take on Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss in November.
Jones describes himself as an independent thinker and a conservative Democrat who supports faith-based initiatives, tough immigration laws and fiscal responsibility. A fan of NASCAR and bluegrass music, Jones, who is black, kept pictures of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in his office and voted twice for Republican George Bush.
Still, in his bid to become Georgia's first black U.S. senator, Vernon Jones has enthusiastically embraced Democrat Barack Obama's presidential bid. Obama coasted to a win in Georgia's Feb. 5 presidential primary, and Jones is hoping Obama's coattails have room for him.
'Y'all have an opportunity in Georgia to get two for one,' Jones said to an overwhelmingly black conference of Christian educators in middle Georgia. 'Don't come down on the wrong side of history.'
Jones' history as a self-proclaimed 'country boy' began on a tobacco farm without indoor plumbing in Laurel Hill, N.C. He was the fifth of six children. Saturdays were spent swimming in the creek or fishing at night by lantern light, and church was a Sunday staple. His father, a World War II veteran, gave him a shotgun when he was 12 to shoot rabbits for dinner.
Jones said his rural upbringing made him a supporter of gun rights and a staunch environmental advocate. One of his signature accomplishments as DeKalb County's leader has been to preserve thousands of acres of greenspace even as development there has exploded - including helping win federal protection for Arabia Mountain.
Jones graduated from North Carolina Central University and soon made his way to Atlanta, where he landed a job at MCI.
He moved to BellSouth, where he spent a decade, and won a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1992. Jones spent eight years in the Georgia House where he helped pass legislation creating the PeachCare health insurance program for children of the working poor.
But Jones had his eye on the DeKalb County CEO job since he arrived in Atlanta. In 2000 he became the first black person elected to the post. The CEO job has enormous power in DeKalb County, where many of the more than 700,000 residents rely on the county for services like trash pickup and sewer.
Jones said his commitment to the nuts-and-bolts details of his job is one reason he is unmarried. 'I am glued to this job,' he said. 'But would I love to have kids someday? Yeah, 10 of them.'
Jones also balances a $2.6 billion budget, a skill he said would prove handy in Washington, where Congress is grappling with a record budget deficit. And he has a record of building needed infrastructure improvements, new libraries police and fire stations.
But his personal history gives some voters pause.
Jones was ordered to take an anger management class in 1987 after allegedly waving a gun at a woman. In 2004, a Republican county commissioner claimed Jones pushed her after a budget dispute.
The same year, a woman accused Jones of rape but did not pursue the case and no charges were filed. Jones has called the allegation 'nonsense' and said the incident amounted to consensual sex. A grand jury investigated taxpayer spending on his security detail.
Jones said that nothing has stuck and the criticism against him is unfounded.
'It's almost like if I walk on water, they would say I can't swim.'
SideBar: At a glance
Who: Vernon Jones
Education: B.A. North Carolina Central University; completed an executive program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government
Professional background: Leadership positions at MCI WorldCom and BellSouth Cellular
Political background: Georgia House of Representatives 1992-2000, served on Appropriations and Insurance committees, Health and Ecology, Banking Committee, and special Judiciary Committee; CEO, DeKalb County, 2000-present.
Web site: www.VernonJonesForGeorgia.com