Sources: Sonny Perdue is Trump's top contender for ag chief

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is a leading contender to serve as Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary, two people with direct knowledge of the situation said Monday, potentially delivering a second Georgian to the president-elect’s Cabinet.

Trump is narrowing in on the 70-year-old Republican for one of his final Cabinet posts, the two people told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Multiple media outlets also reported Trump favors Perdue for the position, including Politico Playbook, which on Monday called Perdue the “leading candidate” for the job.

Perdue declined to comment on Monday, and a transition official said Trump hasn’t yet made a final decision.

The job is one of four Cabinet-level positions that Trump has yet to fill before his Jan. 20 inauguration. Trump has already selected another Georgia Republican, U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, to be his health secretary.

Perdue was among the first high-profile contenders to lead the $140 billion agriculture department, and he met with Trump shortly after Thanksgiving. Shortly after the meeting at Trump Tower, Perdue said he was “interested in helping the country” and declared himself up for the job.

“He asked me what my skills sets were and I told him what they were, aside from having been governor, as a business person and primarily in agricultural commodities, trading domestically and internationally," Perdue told reporters after that Nov. 30 meeting. "And he lit up."

He added: “He knew what it takes to make America great again by doing the things we do well, which is agriculture for one and to free up farmers from the regulations that we see. He was spot on on those issues.”

Perdue appears to be emerging from a broad field that has expanded in recent weeks.

Trump and his aides have interviewed or vetted a range of candidates, including Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat. Last week, Trump’s office said he was also speaking with two prominent Hispanic officials for the job: ex-California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and former Texas A&M president Elsa Murano.

A veterinarian-turned-politician with a long history in middle Georgia agribusinesses, Perdue helped craft Georgia agriculture policy in the 1990s as a Democratic state senator from Houston County before switching to the GOP in 1998.

His surprise victory over Gov. Roy Barnes in 2002 - making him Georgia’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction - triggered a Republican wave in Georgia that flipped the state Senate and then the state House. Georgia Republicans now control every statewide office in Georgia.

As governor, he carved out a reliably conservative record that included legislation that aimed at cracking down illegal immigration and new photo ID requirements for Georgia voters.

He also oversaw Georgia’s decades-long water dispute with Alabama and Florida and the state’s response to an epic drought that prompted him to call for stiff water restrictions. He drew national headlines for leading state lawmakers in a prayer for rain at the height of the drought in 2007.

Since leaving office in 2011, Perdue has run a string of trucking, agriculture and logistics firms from his base in middle Georgia - a role he helps will burnish his appeal to Trump.

If he’s selected for the job, he would be the first agriculture secretary from a Southern state since Mike Espy of Mississippi headed the department in the early 1990s.

He also stumped for Trump across middle Georgia in the final months of the campaign, and served on the president-elect’s agriculture advisory board. But he was not always an enthusiastic Trump supporter. He initially endorsed Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and then former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Perdue has some powerful allies in the incoming Trump administration.

Nick Ayers, Perdue’s former campaign manager, is now a top aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Trump’s transition team and was a finalist to lead the Republican National Committee. And U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Sonny Perdue’s first cousin, is one of Trump’s most prominent supporters in the Senate.

“Sonny’s background in business, his medical background, his executive background as a governor make him an ideal choice,” David Perdue said in November. “In fact, I think he may be the best choice I know in America to be in that ag position if he gets considered.”

Read more about the Trump transition and the Perdues:

Sonny Perdue meets Donald Trump: ‘I’d be happy to serve’

Trump administration could mean greater clout for Perdue circle

Sonny Perdue discusses ‘skill set’ with Trump, who still needs ag chief

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...