Clement is a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.
Clement is the son of former Governor Frank G. Clement. During his father's third run for governor in 1962, Bob joined his father on the campaign trail, often making speeches when his father developed throat trouble.
Clement graduated from Hillsboro High School in Nashville. He went on to attend the University of Tennessee, graduating in 1967. He served in the National Guard from 1969 to 1971 and also served in the reserves until 2001, retiring as a colonel.
Clement considered buying a telephone company while still at UT, but his father refused to lend him the money. However, he did learn quite a bit about the Tennessee Public Service Commission, which regulated phone companies and other utilities. He wanted to get a job on the commission's staff, but chairman Hammond Fowler kept blowing off his requests. When Fowler, who held the East Tennessee seat on the commission, ran for a fourth six-year term in 1972, Clement ran against him in the Democratic primary. Bolstered in part by a televised debate in which he appeared to be young and vibrant while Fowler appeared to be old and doddering, Clement won by an incredible 3-to-1 margin — the most lopsided defeat of a statewide incumbent in Tennessee history. He overwhelmed Republican nominee Tom Garland in the general election in what was otherwise largely a very good year for Republicans in Tennessee (and nationwide) running for major offices. (No Republican was ever elected to the Public Service Commission in Tennessee during its existence, which later played a factor in its abolition more than 20 years later.) At 32, he was (and still is) the youngest person ever elected to statewide office in Tennessee history.
In 1978, Clement announced he would run for the Democratic nomination for governor. He ran second in the primary behind Knoxville banker Jake Butcher, who had finished second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary four years previously and who had a level of name recognition roughly equal to Clement and, additionally, greater financial resources.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter tapped him for an unexpired term on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. He tried to stop the overbuilding of nuclear reactors in the TVA service area; later telling The (Nashville) Tennessean that the agency was trying to pay for the projects by raising rates when there was plenty of power available. He stepped down in 1981.
In 1982, Clement announced his candidacy for the 7th Congressional District, his family's home district. The seat was being vacated by five-term incumbent Republican Robin Beard, who was leaving it to run against Senator Jim Sasser, and had been renumbered from the 6th in redistricting. Clement won the Democratic nomination, but lost the general election to Don Sundquist, a businessman from Memphis who would later become a two-term governor. It was the first (and as of the 2010 elections, only) time that a Democrat had come within single digits in the 7th District and its predecessors since it fell into Republican hands in 1972. Clement said years later that he'd made a mistake by trying to run the same kind of campaign that his father had in his glory days.
Temporarily out of politics, Clement remained active in Democratic circles. He also had a large network of contacts through his ongoing service in the National Guard. In 1983, Clement became president of Cumberland University, a struggling private junior college in Lebanon, 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Nashville. Cumberland had once been one of the most prestigious universities in the South, but had fallen upon hard times, never fully recovering from the Great Depression and the widespread availability of lower-cost public higher education after World War II. The nadir probably occurred when it was forced, for financial reasons, to sell its once-renowned law school (which Clement's father had attended) to what is now Samford University in Birmingham and downgrade to a junior college. During Clement's tenure, the school regained four-year college, and shortly later, full university status. He also tripled the school's private donations.
In 1987, 5th District Congressman Bill Boner left his House seat to become mayor of Nashville. Clement, who had moved to Nashville by this time, resigned as president of Cumberland on August 22 to run in the Democratic primary for the balance of Boner's term. He won the nomination over a crowded field, including most prominently Phil Bredesen, future mayor of Nashville and two-term governor of Tennessee, who finished second. As the Republicans had long since lost interest in a seat they hadn't won since 1875 (Democrats have faced only token opposition since 1972), Clement's victory in the special election of January 19, 1988 was a foregone conclusion. He took office that night, as soon as the results were certified. He was unopposed for a full term in November even as George H. W. Bush became only the second Republican to carry Nashville in a presidential election. He was reelected six times with no substantial opposition.
Despite representing one of the most Democratic districts in the country, Clement had a reputation for working across party lines. This nonpartisan style dated back to his first campaign for the Public Service Commission.
On October 10, 2002, Bob Clement was among the 81 House Democrats who voted in favor of authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
In 2002, when Republican Senator Fred Thompson stated that he had changed his mind regarding his previous announcement that he would run for a second full term, Clement entered the Democratic primary for Thompson's seat. He won the nomination easily, but was defeated in the November general election by former governor Lamar Alexander. Clement was succeeded in the House by former Congressman Jim Cooper, who too is a son of a former Tennessee governor.
On February 15, 2006; Clement formed an exploratory committee for a possible run for mayor of Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County in 2007. His supporters launched a campaign Web site well before his official announcement. Clement finished second in a crowded field including five major candidates, where the top three candidates finished only a few hundred votes apart. Clement faced former Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County law department director Karl Dean in a runoff election on September 11, 2007.
Clement lost the election to Dean by a 52% (51,946) to 48% (47,347) margin. Clement stated after the results were tallied that he has no plans to run for public office in the future.
Clement is married to the former Mary Carson of Nashville. Mary has two sons, Greg Crews and Jeff Crews. They have two daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel. He is a Southern Baptist, but attends Christ Church, a charismatic megachurch in Nashville.