The NRA is disputing Bradley County, Tenn., Sheriff Jim Ruth's claim he has its endorsement for the upcoming election.
The claim appeared in a recent campaign advertisement. Ruth is seeking re-election and is being challenged in the Republican primary by Eric Watson, who is stepping down as District 22 state representative to seek the sheriff's post.
The ad criticized Watson's experience and highlighted what Ruth said were his own achievements in his first term, including new vehicles for officers, new resource officers in schools and a modernized anti-drug program for youth.
It also bore a National Rifle Association logo and the words "Lifetime Member" and "A+ Rating."
But Trevor Santos, Tennessee state liaison for the NRA, said Friday the gun-rights group has made no endorsements so far in the 2014 campaign season.
"I believe he has had an A+ rating in the past," Santos said, but added the NRA Political Victory Fund, the group's PAC, has made no decision whether or whom to endorse in Tennessee races this year.
Ruth's claim of an endorsement "was not accurate," he said.
"I called Sheriff Ruth's office last week, Tuesday or Wednesday, to let him know there was an issue with that claim. I spoke to his assistant. I have not received a call back from Sheriff Ruth or anyone in his campaign," Santos said.
Ruth could not be reached Friday. His office was coping with the announcement that his chief deputy, Wayne Bird, had died that morning after two weeks on medical leave.
However, an employee in his office who declined to be named said Ruth does have a letter of endorsement, an A+ rating and a lifetime membership. The employee could not confirm that the endorsement letter was for the current campaign and could not provide a copy.
The Ruth ad criticized Watson as "a politician" who had never made a felony case. Watson worked in the Bradley sheriff's office with and under Ruth for 20 years before resigning in 2011 with the rank of captain.
The Ruth campaign has lobbed a variety of charges at Watson during the campaign, such as that he was "dishonorably discharged." The Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission has said there is no such type of discharge in state law enforcement.
In January, the Ruth campaign complained to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance that Watson had used money from his state representative campaign war chest to pay for his sheriff campaign. This month, the ethics commission dismissed the complaint, with one member labeling it a "borderline abuse of power."
Watson said Friday the NRA claim is "another example of the Ruth campaign misrepresenting the facts to the people."
He said as a former captain of the warrants division and a member of the U.S. Marshals Task Force, he has made "hundreds" of felony arrests.
He didn't claim an endorsement this year from the gun-rights group but said he has been awarded A+ ratings in multiple past years. He said he is a Tennessee handgun carry instructor and has co-sponsored various bills in the General Assembly securing or expanding gun rights.
"Throughout this campaign, there have been numerous times Jim Ruth has made allegations that have been proven to be mistruths and lies," Watson said.
"Hopefully before election day the lies will stop from their campaign."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.