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During a virtual Republican State Central Committee meeting over the weekend, Chairman Tim Schneider announced that he would leave his post more than a year early.

Behind the scenes, the moderate and more conservative wing of the party are now battling for control. The race to replace Schneider is well underway with candidates reaching out to party leaders like Will County GOP Chairman George Pearson.

“They’re making the phone calls,” Pearson said. “They’re sending the e-mails, setting up meetings.”

Sources said the early top contender is Mark Shaw of Lake County, who two years ago wanted to take on Schneider but backed down when offered a new position as co-chairman for Conservative and Grassroots Outreach.

“I think it would be somebody who has good communication skills, first of all. But also a strong track record of fundraising for political activities as well as experience running campaigns,” said Richard Porter, a member of the Republican National Committee representing Illinois.

Schneider’s departure caught some party insiders like House GOP leader Jim Durkin by surprise.

“I think that there was a conflict – as there always is – between the chairman and party but I think Tim made a decision on his own,” Durkin said.

The state party is touting success in last month’s election, Governor JB Pritzker’s graduated income tax was defeated, a Democratic Supreme Court justice lost his retention contest and the party picked up a House seat.

“We have to get a new chairman in, one who’s going to be a person that appeals to not only conservatives but moderates, independents and also disenfranchised Democrats,” Durkin said.

A former Cook County commissioner, Schneider was installed party chair in May 2014 as the choice of then candidate for Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Some conservatives grew angry at Rauner for supporting legislation that expanded abortion and gay rights while in office, while Schneider was always considered Rauner’s guy.

“Not just Bruce Rauner but a lot of the establishment side,” Pearson said.

Rauner’s defeat in 2018 left the party badly bruised. But two years later, party leaders say they now have a foundation to build on as the eye taking on Pritzker in 2022.

“We’ve got a very important governor’s race coming up, so this is very important that we get this right to be prepared for the governor’s race,” Pearson said.

The Illinois GOP has formed a search committee and will make recommendations during a Jan. 9 meeting.