U.S. Senate candidate profile: Political newcomer Eric Hovde

MADISON — Four Republican candidates are vying to take on Democratic candidate Tammy Baldwin for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat. The GOP Senate primary is Tuesday, August 14th. FOX6 News is profiling the candidates for U.S. Senate. With a net worth somewhere between $58 million and $240 million, Eric Hovde has millions of reasons not to get involved with politics. However, he says there is one reason why he’s doing it anyway.

“I just got tired of yelling at the television set every morning. I’m just so profoundly concerned about the direction we’re going,” Hovde said.

The nation’s yearly budget deficits have accumulated to a $16 trillion debt. Economists say the U.S. is approaching the point where it has borrowed so much, it won’t be able to borrow any more — a point where no one will trust the United States with a loan.

Hovde says the elected leaders entrusted with fixing the problem don’t even have a grasp on basic economics.

“Most of them have no clue. If we don’t change direction real quickly, the next three or four hours, we’ll have an economic collapse that will make that one pale in comparison,” Hovde said.

Hovde is not talking about a Wall Street meltdown, but rather, the bankruptcy of the United States government.

“If you crater our economic system, you will crater and change our political system. It is the most predictable crisis of our lifetime. We can see it two or three years out, and if we don’t change course, it will devastate our society,” Hovde said.

Hovde spoke about what he sees as a looming disaster to a group of attorneys in a downtown Milwaukee board room.

It is a frightening scenario in which the government’s crushing debt could scare off investors and lenders, and the U.S. could no longer meet its obligations, meaning it would not pay social security checks, there would be no Medicare or Medicaid, no maintenance on roads and bridges and no money to pay soldiers.

Hovde has a serious message he’s spreading to anyone who will listen.

“If we don’t address it, all of the other problems of society will be manifested in an enormous way. I don’t get scared easily. I’m a 6-3, 225 pound guy who fights Brazilian jujitsu, but I am very worried about what’s going to unfold if we don’t change course right now, and I mean right now,” Hovde said.

Hovde says the country faces this situation because of bloated government — too much spending, not enough cutting and political ineptitude — too much magical thinking and not enough reality. He detests the bailouts, and says if a bank is too big to fail, it’s too big to exist.

“It distorts the free market system. You can’t have capitalism without failure,” Hovde said.

Hovde — a hedge fund manager saves his harshest words for Wall Street’s excesses.

“The loss of morals and ethics on Wall Street that would prompt somebody that’s already doing well to package up a bunch of toxic mortgage securities and complicated products like collatoralized debt obligations, and selling them off to people’s pension accounts,” Hovde said.

Hovde says the country’s culture has been corrupted by a shortcut mentality, evident everywhere, whether it’s baseball players using steroids or Wall Street bankers using credit default swaps.

“I really think at the heart of so many of our problems is a moral issue, and we have to change that in our country,” Hovde said.

For some, morality is intensely personal. For Hovde, it is sometimes public. He is an evangelical Christian with deep faith.

Hovde recently spoke to a small gathering in a backyard of one of Milwaukee’s rough neighborhoods — the spot where his $25,000 funded a transitional house for women. They learn how to budget and once they’re on their feet, they move out.

“We’re all here for a reason, because God has touched our hearts. That’s what sends any of us on this journey in life. I want everybody in our country to succeed and be able to work hard, and stand on their own two feet,” Hovde said.

Hovde says he is attuned to other people’s struggles because he’s had his own. Hovde was diagnosed with MS 21 years ago.

“Stopping me in my tracks, making me think about what’s important in life — that led me to start my foundation to focus on charitable giving, and when God takes you down that path, he takes you down that path,” Hovde said.

Hovde’s charitable foundation operates all over the world. He says that’s what led him to public service.

Hovde moved back to Wisconsin about 18 months ago to run for the open U.S. Senate seat. He had been living in Washington, D.C. for 24 years, but retains his Wisconsin accent.

Some have been hostile on the campaign trail — comparing Hovde to a carpetbagger. Hovde says he is a third generation Wisconsinite, who moved to D.C. when his father joined President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Hovde is 48 years old, but looks more like 38. He is a self-described fitness nut who lifts weights and practices Brazilian jujitsu. He eats a lean diet, but allows himself at least one indulgence.

Hovde, the political newcomer, has made a splash with a series of memorable TV ads.

The rap is that he came from nowhere, but he actually grew up in the wealthy Madison suburb of Maple Bluff — not far from the Governor’s Mansion. There, his father was a prominent real estate developer. In 1982, Hovde graduated from Madison East High School, where he admits, he was not the most engaged student. Next to his yearbook photo, there is no list of activities.

Hovde went on to the University of Wisconsin, studying international relations. He is relentlessly competitive, and had an itch to get past the books and into the business world.

“After that I wanted to see Washington. D.C. where my parents were living and explore a different part of the world, and start my own business, then another business and another business, and I met my wife and got married and had a three-year-old stepdaughter,” Hovde said.

Hovde’s father, Don, died 10 years ago and his mother suffered a fatal heart attack this year.

“It’s hard when you’re embarking on something like this and they’re up there looking down on you. I lost my mom three months ago. I miss her,” Hovde said.

For Hovde, every day is filled with campaign events. FOX6 News rode with him for a recent meeting and rally.

“So often, what’s really corrupted our political system is it’s all about personal destruction.  How do you tear the other person down? I’m very straightforward, and I’ll address their questions,” Hovde said.

Hovde is finding tough questions around every corner. One man recently confronted him in an elevator, with a question about predator drones.

Skeptical conservative voters wonder why Hovde contributed to the Democratic former Governor Jim Doyle. Hovde says Doyle’s administration strong-armed him.

“Someone came in and said ‘Eric, you have never contributed. You have to contribute.  Eric, we need a check to get these guys off our back,’ so I signed it. It was a mistake,” Hovde said.

Still, Hovde has surged in the polls and appears to be a legitimate threat to the ever-popular Tommy Thompson.

Hovde says one of his biggest concerns would be winning, then realizing Congress enjoys the partisan fight more than the practical solution. Hovde has a million reasons not to be in politics, but his money is perhaps the one reason he has a shot at a Senate seat.

“Would I like a system where you didn’t need as many economic resources to get elected? Sure.  I will remind people our founding fathers were all very successful people, but that does give you an advantage, no question about it,” Hovde said.

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