Republicans have watched in frustration as their elected numbers have shrunk in recent years and in Minnesota. They're about to see a change: state GOP chairman Ron Carey said Monday that he will not seek a third term.

"Let's face it, the last two cycles have been very tough for Republicans across the country," Carey said. "Sometimes, maybe it's best for the cause to have a fresh face out there.

"The last thing I want to be is an impediment to the conservative cause. Someone without the baggage you gain over four years might be an improvement."

It's a big step down from Carey's triumphant moment last Labor Day, when he gaveled in the Republican National Convention in his home state and drank up the attention of party big wigs.

But Republicans suffered setbacks in the 2008 election and face the possibility of one more in Minnesota unless former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman can reverse his deficit in his long, drawn-out election battle with DFL challenger Al Franken. Coleman trails by 312 votes as he appeals a lower-court election ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Carey's party has been on the ropes, struggling to regain a coherent message and footing as it attempts to claw its way back.

"There is no question this has been the toughest time for the Republican Party since Watergate," Carey said. "It was nice to be chair during the heyday, but right now people are mad at Republican leadership. They're mad at Washington. Well, they can't go after them, but they can go after the party chair."

Carey, a Shoreview businessman, became chairman of the party in 2005, after ousting Ron Eibensteiner in a showdown over styles and direction. An evangelical Christian, Carey was a comfortable fit with the growing socially conservative wing of the party while emphasizing the need for stronger grass roots, better fundraising and campaign coordination.

Carey hit his own rocky stretch soon after. Republicans lost 19 seats in the state House and six in the Senate in the 2006 elections, and in 2007, staff infighting broke out, with two departing staff members alleging financial improprieties. Carey said at the time that any financial problems that occurred were resolved.

Carey later beat back a challenge from within the party, won reelection in 2007 and went on to land the presidential nominating convention. He also transformed the position of party chairman from a volunteer, part-time post to a full-time position that in 2008 paid $95,000 a year to oversee an $11 million organization with a 100-member payroll.

"I'm going to try to finish strong the last two months," Carey said. "I don't regret the last four years for a second, but I don't believe I'm the only one who can lead the Republican Party."

Party delegates will meet in June to select a replacement.

Running for the position are Tony Sutton, a former executive director of the party; former KFAI-AM talk show host Dave Thompson and former state Sen. Carrie Ruud.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288