It's tough to campaign on political issues for a largely administrative office. So candidates for Loudoun's Circuit Court clerk--one a longtime court worker and the other a former supervisor--have touted their respective experience as the thing that sets them apart.

Democrat T.S. "Tom" Dodson, 50, former supervisor and Middleburg mayor, will face Republican nominee Gary M. Clemens, 33, a legal services specialist for the Commonwealth Attorney's Office, for the eight-year term.

The campaign marks the first time in 16 years that the clerk's race is contested. The winner will fill the seat held by retiring Circuit Court Clerk J. Richard Kirk, 58, a Democrat who ran unopposed in 1991 and is not seeking reelection.

The candidates have similar platforms--both are stressing the need to improve technology and customer service in the clerk's office--and each has campaigned on the strengths that his experience would bring to the position.

Clemens said his work as a deputy clerk in Fairfax County's court and with Loudoun prosecutors has given him firsthand knowledge of the intricacies of record keeping as well as the needs of the citizens who use the clerk's office.

Dodson, who works for Crestar Mortgage Corp., said his years in the political arena would make him the most effective in seeking state and county funding for improvements and that his experience working in a family business would help him manage the clerk's office.

The Circuit Court clerk's duties include maintaining criminal and civil records, running the jury management office, issuing marriage licenses, processing passports and maintaining the law library. The salary for the clerk's job, a constitutional office, is $98,333 a year.

Both candidates said they would work to provide round-the-clock remote access to land record indexes and court calendars. Each also has said the county needs a satellite office in eastern Loudoun to handle some court functions, such as providing applications for passports and marriage licenses.

Clemens said he would issue an "open invitation" to lawyers, title examiners and other frequent court users to determine how to create the most user-friendly computerized record-keeping system. He also said he would extend the clerk's office hours by staggering employees' shifts.

"To be an effective leader, you have to have an intimate knowledge of the operation," Clemens said. "I've worked in the courts my entire career. I know what the customers need."

Dodson said Clemens approaches the office "primarily from the technical side. I approach it not only from the technical side but also with leadership experience."

Dodson, picking up on a popular election theme, also has promised to work for "smart growth" and preservation of the county's rural areas. He said he would work for the cause by "speaking up publicly and hopefully influencing the public debate."

Clemens said Dodson's position on growth is a "gimmick" and irrelevant to the clerk's race.

"The bottom line is the clerk will not do anything to initiate legislation or policy on growth," Clemens said. "The clerk will advise the board on how the [clerk's] operation is impacted [by growth], and I'll certainly do that."