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SonnyWatch: Donald Trump bides his time with ag pick

President-elect Donald Trump is going down to the wire with his selection for agriculture secretary. And that means former Gov. Sonny Perdue and his supporters are waiting on pins and needles.

For days, reports have been flying that the Georgia Republican is Trump’s leading contender for the job. But the wait is leading to more speculation that he might not have it in the bag. And it’s frustrated agricultural industry leaders who are eager to find out who will run the $140 billion department.

"It certainly has folks concerned or worried that maybe it just doesn't seem to be getting the attention that we would like it to," Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union told Bloomberg. "Folks in agriculture and rural America feel like they delivered for this president and they just want there to be more attention."

Trump has locked up most of his top administration picks and all but two of his secretary-level Cabinet appointments. Only the agriculture job and the head of the Veterans Affairs departments remain vacant.

The agriculture secretary has long been among the last pick for an incoming president, but this wait is unusually long. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all announced their agriculture chiefs in late December.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and multiple media outlets reported last week that Trump is narrowing in on the 70-year-old Republican for one of his final Cabinet posts, citing transition officials and other people with direct knowledge of Trump’s negotiations.

While Perdue has declined to comment, his backers say he spent time with the president-elect over the holidays and point to farm groups that have embraced him. Among his allies is Zippy Duvall, a Georgian who is the president of the American Farm Bureau and has stayed publicly neutral.

“I can talk about Sonny because I had a personal relationship with him,” Duvall told The Progressive Farmer. “That doesn't mean he is any better or worse than the other candidates."

Other advocacy groups, including the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, are making a late push for former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a Mexican-American who CNN has called the “front-runner” to lead the department.

And Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley took to Twitter to vouch for his pick for ag chief: The state's agriculture commissioner, Bill Northey.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.