Downey says he’ll leave GOP chair post next spring

Keith Downey spoke at a press conference about GOP finances at the Minnesota State Office Building in 2014. Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey erased some doubt Thursday about his future, announcing he will step aside when his current two-year term expires in April while leaving open the possibility of seeking a public office down the road.

Downey has led the party since 2013 and said he never planned to be party chair for an extended period. Downey said he believes Republicans are well-positioned after a successful fall campaign. Republicans expanded their ranks in the Legislature and will control both chambers starting next week.

“Now I think we’re to the point where someone can certainly step in and take the party to the next level,” Downey said.

The 2018 election will center around races for Minnesota governor and U.S. Senate. Republicans haven’t won a statewide race since 2006 when Tim Pawlenty was re-elected governor.

Downey, a former state House member from Edina, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor.

“I won’t rule that out and I won’t rule anything out,” Downey said. “I do have a job to do for four more months so I’ve got to prioritize that and make sure that we get the party in as strong a position as we can be come April.”

Downey said he was announcing his intentions now to give potential candidates for the position time to make their case to party activists at local conventions over the winter. Several Republicans are weighing bids for the job, including deputy chair Chris Fields and outgoing Senate Minority Leader David Hann.

His successor will be picked at a state party meeting on April 29.