CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's a race between the haves and have-nots in the Democratic primary for state agriculture commissioner, judging by the latest campaign financial disclosures filed with the secretary of state's office.
Two candidates -- Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, and assistant agriculture commissioner Steve Miller each reported raising in excess of $50,000 to date, while the other three candidates are all below $10,000 each.
As the only seriously contested statewide primary for an executive branch office, the agriculture commissioner's race has taken on an unusually high profile for the May 8 election.
Usually overshadowed by statewide races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and the like, the commissioner's race has been even more low-key in recent elections since Commissioner Gus Douglass -- who has held the office for 44 of the past 48 years -- has rarely faced serious opposition.
Douglass, 85, who will retire in January, opted not to run for re-election this year.
Helmick, a six-term senator and former Finance Committee chairman, has raised a total of $80,599, although $27,627 of that amount was transferred from his Senate campaign account.
Miller is second in fundraising, with a total of $59,516.
Going into the final days of the campaign, Helmick reported a balance of $43,597, to Miller's $14,782.
Not surprisingly, Helmick and Miller are the only candidates so far to launch television spots.
In the spot, "We Want Walt, the Farmer's Advocate," Helmick discusses what he regards as state agriculture industry's untapped potential for job creation.
Miller's spot, "A Farmer for Commissioner of Agriculture," features an endorsement from Douglass, stating, "I consider Steve Miller to be the most qualified."
Miller's disclosure lists a total of $29,421 in payments to Charleston-based Orion Strategies, a political consulting firm owned by Curtis Wilkerson. Of that, $20,000 is listed as purchases of TV commercial airtime.
Helmick's disclosure lists no expenditures for commercial production or media buys, although the latest form only covers expenses through April 22.
The other candidates lag in fundraising, led by retired Agriculture Commission field supervisor Joseph Messineo, who has raised $9,527 and reported a balance of $7,035.
Deputy agriculture commissioner Bob Tabb reported raising $6,723, although $6,515 of that amount consists of loans he has made to the campaign.
Sally Shepherd reported raising a total of $4,775, including $2,225 in the reporting period, covering the first three weeks of April.
Even with a field of five challengers, the primary for agriculture commissioner is still low-key by standards for statewide races.
By comparison, in the Democratic primary for state Supreme Court -- the only other seriously contested statewide race on the May ballot -- four of the six candidates have each raised more than $80,000.
At the top is Justice Robin Davis, whose $240,699 in contributions is nearly three times what Helmick has raised. Tish Chafin is second in fundraising, with $173,600, although she also has set aside a $1 million loan to her campaign.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has raised the most funds to date in the 2012 election cycle, at $1.17 million.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.