The National Rifle Association is taking Bradley County, Tenn., Sheriff Jim Ruth to task for the second time in two weeks for falsely claiming its endorsement in the current Republican primary for sheriff.
In a recent mailer to voters, Ruth said he was a "Member/Endorsed by -- National Rifle Association."
That's just not true, said Trevor Santos, Tennessee liaison for the gun-rights group.
"The information [in the mailer] relating to the rating and endorsement by the NRA is FALSE," Santos said in a news release Thursday evening. "At this time, the NRA Political Victory Fund has NOT rated or endorsed any candidate for sheriff in Tennessee for the 2014 elections."
Asked for an explanation, Ruth on Friday released a 2010 letter from the National Rifle Association-Political Victory Fund awarding him its "AQ rating" and endorsement in the 2010 sheriff's race.
Sheriff's office spokesman Bob Gault emailed the letter and wrote, "Sheriff Ruth asked me to provide you with the attached letter from the NRA indicating he is allowed to use his rating as he chooses with no specified ending date."
The 2010 letter, signed by then-state liaison Heidi Keesling, said the rating "is a reflection of your answers to our candidate questionnaire and your promotion of the second amendment [sic] as a firearms instructor for over 25 years."
Keesling added, "Please feel free to communicate your candidate rating to the voters of Bradley County as you see fit."
An AQ is given to a candidate who fills out a perfect candidate questionnaire but does not have a voting record or any other record on Second Amendment issues.
Santos told the Times Free Press on Friday the NRA endorsement cannot be carried over from year to year.
The endorsement "is only good for the 2010 election. That is the reason the year/election is stated in the letter. I feel the wording of the letter makes that very clear," he said in an email.
Two weeks ago, Santos repudiated Ruth's claim of NRA endorsement in a newspaper ad. He said then that the group had not made endorsements in any Tennessee sheriff's race this year.
Ruth's GOP primary opponent, Eric Watson, was quick to capitalize on the NRA's second repudiation.
"I have urged Mr. Ruth to keep this election about the issues and about his record as sheriff," Watson said in an emailed news release.
"However, it is clear when the record only reflects a total lack of effective leadership, gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds, an ever-rising crime rate and an employee turnover rate of over 50 percent, apparently all that is left for Mr. Ruth to do is sling mud, tell lies about his opponent and fabricate endorsements from legitimate organizations such as the NRA."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6416.