Rep. John Salazar (D-CO) appears to have moved to the top of the list of the candidates to become USDA Secretary in the Obama administration.

Veteran Washington agricultural columnist Jim Wiesemeyer said this week that Salazar, a farmer who represents his state’s Third Congressional District, appears to fit several criteria that could help determine the nominee for the post. Among them, he is a moderate to conservative Democrat. He was born and raised on a cattle operation and is a seed potato farmer. And he is Latino.

Thus, Salazar, whose website says he was raised on a farm where he shared a bedroom with five siblings, with no running water or electricity, “fits in a lot of different categories and may have the inside track on this position,” says Wiesemeyer, vice president with Informa Economics in Washington.

Wiesemeyer expects Obama to name his choice for USDA Secretary before Christmas, and probably in the last one-third of cabinet announcements.

“I think that when the transition team gets to that last third they will sit down and figure out where they are on the regional representation and the ethnic background of the nominees that have been announced,” he said. “That’s why Salazar could be a good fit.”

Although Salazar may be the frontrunner for now, there’s no guarantee he will be the nominee, says Wiesemeyer. After all, neither of the last two USDA Secretaries – Mike Johanns and Ed Schafer – was even being mentioned in the press the morning they were announced by President Bush.

Other candidates who have been mentioned are Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union; former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX); and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, (D-SD).

Editor’s note: Sandlin appears to have some popular appeal among crop growers, garnering 45% of the vote in on-going six-candidate poll of visitors to cornandsoybeandigest.com. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is pulling 37% but has already indicated he’s out of contention.
Forrest Laws, Farm Press