Keith Downey will not seek a third term as chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, he announced Thursday.

The announcement followed comments by Downey acknowledging that he may instead join a crowded field to run for governor in 2018.

Downey, of Edina, has served two terms as party chairman beginning in 2013. He led state Republicans at a time when the party faced a massive debt left behind by former chairman Tony Sutton.

"The party was in a very bad position, and we have accomplished the turnaround and the comeback I have envisioned," Downey said Friday.

He added that it was time for someone new to lead and prepare the GOP for the midterm elections in 2018.

"The absolute most important thing for the Republican Party and the Republicans … is to do what the voters asked us to do last November," Downey said. "If we do that … I think we'll have a great chance of succeeding in 2018."

GOP Deputy Chairman Chris Fields intends to run for Downey's job. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, who lost a re-election bid this year, said he is considering running for the position and would make a formal decision in the coming weeks.

Hann and Downey said they have heard of other people who are also interested but did not want to disclose any names.

More candidates are likely to emerge before district conventions begin in late January, Downey said. An election will be held in April and the new chairman would start on May 1.

Before serving as party chairman, Downey was a member of the Minnesota House from 2009 to 2012. He ran for the state Senate in 2012 but lost to Melisa Franzen.

Downey offered no other comments about his future plans after he steps down as chairman.

"A lot of work [went on] in these last four years to get us back to the point where we're credible," he said. "That's a very satisfying feeling."

Several people from both parties are considering running for governor in 2018. Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, has said he will not seek re-election.