Race to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe gathers steam as Republican activists set date to pick his likely successor
The Heath Republican is on track to be confirmed as the director of national intelligence, which would create a vacancy in his solidly red district.
*Editor's note: This story was updated Wednesday with the latest information about the schedule of Ratcliffe's nomination.
The race to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is picking up as he nears confirmation to be the next director of national intelligence.
Party activists in his northeast Texas district are set to elect his replacement for the November ballot at a newly announced Aug. 8 meeting, and at least three candidates have already stepped forward, most notably Ratcliffe's former top district staffer. The August vote will effectively select who serves the next full term in the seat, given that it is an overwhelmingly Republican district and whoever takes Ratcliffe's place as the GOP nominee will likely prevail in the fall.
While the November winner would start serving in January, less certain is what would happen with the rest of Ratcliffe's term. Gov. Greg Abbott could call a special election on the same date of the November election or sooner — or he could leave the seat vacant until Ratcliffe's permanent successor takes office in January. Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment on his plans.
Still, the gears are in motion to replace Ratcliffe as the GOP nominee for the 4th District. Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey announced the Aug. 8 vote in a Monday letter to county and precinct chairs in the district, a group of activists that make up what is called the Congressional District Executive Committee. They are are tasked with electing a new nominee for November if the incumbent vacates the seat at this point in the election cycle.
To be sure, Ratcliffe has not been confirmed yet, though his nomination is going more smoothly than it did when President Donald Trump made plans to nominate him to the post last year and then abruptly backtracked amid scrutiny of his resume. Ratcliffe had his confirmation hearing a week ago before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Wednesday that he expects the panel to advance Ratcliffe's nomination Tuesday, followed by a full Senate vote as early as the following week.
If all goes well for Ratcliffe, the district activists will meet at 1 p.m. Aug. 8 in Sulphur Springs to vote on his replacement for the November ballot, according to Dickey's letter. Anyone can be nominated, and the winner must receive majority support from those voting and present. Additional rules will be adopted at the meeting before the vote begins.
At least three candidates have made clear they will compete for the slot. They include Jason Ross, Ratcliffe's former district chief of staff who is campaigning on continuing in Ratcliffe's footsteps, promising to "stay the course with a principled conservative and proven leader." Ross' campaign treasurer, Betsy Roe, is also Ratcliffe's.
On Tuesday, another candidate surfaced for the seat: Floyd McLendon, the runner-up in the March primary for the Dallas-based 32nd Congressional District. McLendon, a former Navy SEAL, finished behind Genevieve Collins, who narrowly won outright in the five-way primary, capturing the nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, a national GOP target.
"As a Retired U.S. Navy SEAL, having served 25 years for our country and the American people, my political and campaign resume, relationships built in District 4, and my strong conservative values can prove the most valuable to continuing Congressman Ratcliffe’s legislative success," McLendon said in a text message Tuesday evening.
A third candidate is TC Manning, a Navy veteran who unsuccessfully ran in the March primary for the Houston-based 18th Congressional District. He came in third out of six in the primary for that seat, which is held by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston.
There could also be state lawmakers from the area interested in the seat. However, one of them who came up as a potential candidate last year, Rockwall state Rep. Justin Holland, said Tuesday evening that he will not pursue the seat this time.
Ratcliffe's district is safely Republican, and President Donald Trump won 75% of the vote there in 2016. The Democratic nominee for the 4th District this November is Russell Foster.
Dickey said the Aug. 8 date is the result of a narrow three-week window that the party has to replace Ratcliffe on the ballot. The July 14 primary runoff, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, means newly elected county activists will not begin their terms until Aug. 3, and the party faces an Aug. 24 deadline to inform the secretary of state who its replacement nominee is.
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