CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State Department of Agriculture officials say longtime Commissioner Gus Douglass has not endorsed a candidate in this fall's general election, although a look at Republican nominee Kent Leonhardt's website might have voters believing otherwise.
A slideshow on Leonhardt's site, www.kentforwv.com, prominently features a photo of Leonhardt and Douglass shaking hands in the commissioner's office.
Douglass, who will retire next year after 44 years as the state's farmer-in-chief, is the longest-serving commissioner in U.S. history and one of the biggest names in the state's Democrat party.
Leonhardt is a retired Marine and Monongalia County livestock farmer running his first-ever statewide campaign. His opponent is another well-known Democrat, longtime state senator Walt Helmick.
Agriculture department spokesman Buddy Davidson said Douglass has not endorsed either candidate, and he doesn't expect the commissioner will do so.
"I would say if he was going to make an endorsement, he would have by now," Davidson said.
Davidson said Douglass' photo with Leonhardt was taken during a tour of the agriculture department's facilities in Guthrie earlier this year. Helmick got a similar tour, he said.
"It's not an endorsement of Leonhardt, but he's free to use that photo. They're on friendly terms," he said.
Leonhardt's campaign also posted the photo to its Twitter account on Monday morning.
"Commissioner Gus Douglass is the longest serving Ag Commish in America. As he retires I am ready to serve! #RealFarmer" the tweet read.
That "Real Farmer" hash-tag is a jab at Helmick.
Beginning in the Democratic primary earlier this year, Helmick's opponents have repeatedly insisted he is not fit for the agriculture commissioner's office because he runs a water bottling operation from his Pocahontas County property but does not raise crops or livestock.
Douglass, a lifelong farmer who still lives on the 540-acre Mason County farm where he grew up, alluded to those attacks against Helmick, albeit subtly, when he endorsed assistant agriculture commissioner Steve Miller in the Democratic primary.