In the first month as the new chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Tim Schneider of Bartlett has spent a lot of time outside his home in Cook County, traveling downstate to introduce himself to the GOP faithful.
Both Schneider and Republicans' governor hopeful Bruce Rauner are from Cook County, after all, and uniting the GOP on geographic fronts is something Schneider said is a top goal.
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"There aren't two Republican parties in Illinois," said Schneider, a Cook County commissioner.
"I always think that people downstate think Cook County is a different world," he said.
The GOP's highest-profile splits in Illinois in recent years have been along ideological lines, whether it was the near ouster of former party Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles over his lobbying for same-sex marriage or expensive Illinois House primary races in the suburbs in April over the same issue.
Supporters say Schneider takes the helm of the party with a reputation as a uniter. He says he's honed his skills in nearly two terms on the Cook County Board, time as Hanover Township Republican committeeman and work going back to the 1980s as a Hanover Township trustee and highway commissioner.
"We're all in agreement on 90 percent of what we do," Schneider said.
But now he'll be the less-known Rauner teammate in the difficult statewide political task of a governor's race win that has eluded Republicans since George Ryan's 1998 victory.
Illinois Republicans have made clear that 2014 is above all about electing Rauner -- who has done his own party building by giving a significant amount of campaign money to local GOP organizations across the state during his campaign for governor.
So when the Winnetka businessman threw his support behind Schneider as the next GOP chairman, there was little doubt who would be elected. In praising Schneider, Rauner's campaign suggested Schneider was the right man to help him win.
"Bruce liked Tim's background as a small-business owner, fiscal conservative and government reformer and believed he would be a good spokesman to deliver Bruce's message of shaking up Springfield and bringing back Illinois," Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.
Schneider, when pressed, has declined to give his views on same-sex marriage, which is contrary to the party's platform but became legal June 1 in Illinois.
Schneider owns the Golf Club of Illinois in Algonquin and Waterwerks car wash in Elgin. Previously, his family owned the Rolling Knolls golf course in Elgin.
In 2010, the Cook County Board paid $5.7 million to buy Rolling Knolls while Schneider was on the board after his family expressed interest in turning the 18-hole course into a 9-hole one and developing the remaining land into housing. Schneider recused himself from the vote.
The vote last month to install him into the GOP chairmanship went smoothly for Schneider. He had in 2013 expressed interest in the job but pulled out before the vote that propelled Rosemont Trustee Jack Dorgan into the role.
This year, the only other person to apply for the job pulled out to clear the path for Schneider.
Blair Garber of Evanston, a member of Republicans' state central committee, said he applied because he didn't think Dorgan's job as a Springfield lobbyist looked right. Rauner is running a campaign aimed in part at making Springfield the villain.
Garber, though, said he was happy to back Schneider.
"Can you imagine anything more difficult than being a Republican on the Cook County Board?" Garber said.
On the board, Schneider said he's tried to be a voice for reduced spending and ethics proposals.
Democratic Commissioner John Daley of Chicago complimented Schneider's work on the board.
"He's willing to compromise, which is unusual in this state," Daley said
There might not be much bipartisan unity on the campaign trail, though. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has tried to paint Rauner as too wealthy to be in touch with regular Illinoisans, and the governor has sought to highlight his support for same-sex marriage and raising the minimum wage, issues that might play well in a state that has leaned Democratic in recent years.
In 2012, the Republican Party under Brady lost enough seats in the Illinois House and Senate to give Democrats veto-proof majorities. And while Quinn seemed vulnerable in 2010 -- campaigning on raising income taxes -- Republicans couldn't defeat him.
Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington received more votes for governor in 98 of Illinois' 102 counties, but Quinn's margins in the Chicago area were too big to overcome.
So despite Schneider's trips downstate to introduce himself, his home county will likely get a lot of attention as November draws near.
"This election is going to be won or lost in Cook County," he said.