SPRINGFIELD -- With the exit of Pat Brady of St. Charles as its chairman this week, the Illinois Republican Party is hunting to fill an often thankless job with someone who could face immense pressure to turn the GOP's recent defeats around in a crucial 2014 season.
"The new chairman must reunite the state Republican Party," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican and likely candidate for governor. "And be a unifier, organizer, orator and fundraiser."
The new chairman faces a tough recent history to overcome. The party lost the 2010 governor's race even as Gov. Pat Quinn campaigned to raise income taxes.
And losing that race guaranteed the party wouldn't have a say in the every-decade redrawing of political boundaries in 2011.
Partly as a result of that new map, Republicans lost five of the six hotly contested seats for Congress in Illinois -- including all three in the suburbs -- and surrendered historically large margins to Democrats in Springfield.
Whether expectations are fair or not, the party will look to its next chairman to turn some of those losses around.
By the way, the gig doesn't pay.
"It's a big task for a volunteer position," Dillard said.
The last two Republican chairmen have faced controversy. Brady left the job for personal reasons after months of bickering in the party over whether his support of same-sex marriage despite the GOP platform made him a suitable leader. And before him, Andy McKenna took heat for using party resources to poll whether he'd do well as a candidate for governor.
McKenna stepped down from the chairmanship before the 2010 Republican primary, ran for governor and lost.
After Brady's exit this week, state central committeemen have held a number of late-night calls over succession planning.
While more than two dozen people were nominated for the role, after a 9 p.m. call Wednesday, eight names were left on a list.
They included 9th District Committeeman Jack Dorgan of Rosemont, state Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove, businessman Jim Nalepa of Hinsdale, 10th District committeeman Mark Shaw of Lake Forest, former Congressman Joe Walsh of McHenry, 3rd District committeeman Angel Garcia of Chicago, Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider of Bartlett, and former lieutenant governor candidate Don Tracy.
After state Sen. Matt Murphy withdrew his name from consideration, Dorgan has grown to be viewed by some as the consensus candidate.
Dorgan acknowledged that the post would be a tough one to fill.
"I believe in our party. I think we should have a legitimate two-party system," he said. "The Republicans have a very strong message. We need to make sure we have a strong showing in the primary and the upcoming general election. That selection (of candidates) and the apparatus that goes with it is very important."
A decision is expected to be made between May 18 and June 9, though things could move faster.
Illinois GOP Vice Chairman Carol Smith Donovan, of Chicago, has agreed to serve as interim chairman in the meantime.
Several committeemen -- feeling that both the calls for Brady's ouster and now a replacement search have become too public and ugly -- are not taking calls from the media and declined to return calls from the Daily Herald seeking comment.
House Republican leader Tom Cross said Brady and McKenna both "had trouble, but each had their talents." Cross said McKenna had strong fundraising connections and Brady was a solid spokesman, unafraid to cross powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Cross said the party would fare better if it can win back the governor's mansion and all the political weight that comes with that office.
The governor, he said, can effectively serve as party chairman in a way. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk "was clearly in that role prior to his stroke," Cross said.
"It's time to rebuild," Cross said. "We've got a lot of growing to do."
That kind of frankness appears from many Republicans who don't try to spin the notion that the state party needs a boost. But the disagreement over what to do about it continues, with hopefuls for the chairman job sometimes differing over whether the party needs to return to its ideological roots or open up to more people.
"Our brand (image) is awful," Sandack said. "And that's our fault."