Race to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe gathers steam as Republican activists set date to pick his likely successor

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John Ratcliffe, Republican candidate for Texas' 4th U.S. Congressional District speaks in Fort Worth on June 5, 2014. Bob Daemmrich

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 on the November ballot at a newly announced Aug. 8 meeting, and at least three candidates have already stepped forward. 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 2021, less certain is what would happen with the rest of Ratcliffe's current 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 smoother 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, whose chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has aimed to hold a vote advancing Ratcliffe's nomination as early as this 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 on 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 the same as Ratcliffe's.