The field to replace former Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler is taking shape.
The three most-discussed potential candidates had all made up their minds by the end of Tuesday, with a two-way race emerging between Houston-area businessman Rick Figueroa and Travis County GOP Chairman James Dickey. Mark Ramsey, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from Spring, had been encouraged to run but announced Tuesday night he was taking a pass.
"It is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, as I’m sure Tom’s was," read a letter from Ramsey, the chief of staff to state Rep. Valoree Swanson of Spring.
More candidates could emerge, but the window of opportunity is closing with the election to replace Mechler less than two weeks away.
Mechler stepped down Saturday after leading the party since 2015, attributing his decision to personal reasons. The SREC will pick an interim chairman to finish his term at its next quarterly meeting, which is set for June 2-3 in Austin.
Figueroa is believed to be favored by Mechler, who used his resignation letter to warn the party against letting up on its efforts to "engage in the diverse communities across Texas." Figueroa has been involved in those efforts under Mechler, helping out with a Hispanic Engagement Listening Tour, among other things.
Asked Tuesday if he had a preference between Figueroa and Dickey, Mechler spoke positively of Figueroa's work for the party in recent months but did not offer an endorsement.
"At this point, you know, I'm going to stay out of telling the SREC what to do," the former chairman told the "West Texas Drive" radio show.
Many activists got to know Figueroa through his unsuccessful campaign last year to unseat Republican National Committeeman Robin Armstrong. Figueroa went on to become a surrogate in Texas for then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who named Figueroa and five other Texans to his National Hispanic Advisory Council.
Announcing his candidacy for the chairmanship Monday, Figueroa made clear he would continue Mechler's push to grow the party, calling engagement a top priority. "If we do not act now, we will lose Texas," Figueroa wrote on his campaign website.
In Dickey, Texas Republicans would be getting a longtime activist from one of the state's toughest areas for the GOP: solidly liberal Travis County. He regained control of the party there last year after briefly losing it to conspiracy theorist Robert Morrow, whose fluke election made national headlines.
In a letter to SREC members Tuesday, Dickey touted his progress in Travis County despite the political headwinds, pointing to the addition of "two conservative members to an infamously liberal city council," among other achievements.
"My success in these areas has been a direct result of my focus on building a collaborative environment where all conservative voices in our Party can voice their opinions and work together to advance our common goals with mutual respect," Dickey wrote to SREC members. "We may not always agree, but as the Party of the Big Tent it is critical we listen to each other and work together in good faith."
The race to replace Mechler has already provided a glimpse at some of the lingering tensions from the 2016 presidential race among Texas Republicans. Even before he announced his chairman campaign, Figueroa was facing questions regarding critical statements he made following a controversial immigration speech by the nominee.
"I am 100% supportive of President Trump's immigration policy and have been throughout his candidacy and time in office," Figueroa wrote Sunday on Facebook. "My only advice to President Trump has been in communicating and messaging his plan and its policies in the most effective way possible."