CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As longtime Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass prepares to leave office in January, another well-known state Democrat will take his place.
State Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, beat out Republican Kent Leonhardt in Tuesday's election to become the state's farmer-in-chief.
"It was a very difficult year. I had some things to overcome...but it appears everything worked out good," Helmick said Tuesday night.
The agriculture race was a relatively tight one. Only 20,879 votes separated the candidates with 95 percent of state precincts reporting.
Helmick came out on top, however, receiving 299,264 votes to claim 52 percent of the electorate.
Helmick will succeed longtime Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass, who has held the office more than 40 years.
"There's challenges there, obviously, but there's opportunities," he said.
Helmick, who has served in the state Senate since 1989, runs a water bottling business from his 200-acre Pocahontas County farm. During the campaign he said he wants to promote West Virginia's farmers and create a larger marketplace for their products.
Leonhardt who moved to West Virginia in 1996 to raise cattle, sheep and goats on a 380-acre Monongalia County farm, said he expected to win the agriculture commissioner race.
"It was a good run. It was close," he said. "It was a great experience. I met a lot of friends. They all worked really hard."
Leonhardt is a retired Marine colonel and served in Desert Storm, where he led an intelligence unit. He said that experience -- the challenges of leading men and women in times of war and peace, balancing a budget and dealing with the federal government -- perfectly prepared him to run the state agriculture department.
The agriculture commissioner race was Leonhardt's first major political campaign. He said it's "too early to tell" if he will seek office in the future.
"It's not out of the question, but it's way too early to tell," he said.