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Battle brewing over top GOP spot in state House

Illinois Rep. Jim DurkR-Western Springs. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: September 30, 2013 2:03PM

Illinois Republican House members on Thursday are poised to vote for their first new minority leader in more than a decade in what has grown into a divisive face-off between two GOP contenders.

Some are casting the battle between state representatives Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Raymond Poe of Springfield as a North vs. South battle.

The Civic Committee’s Ty Fahner weighed in, calling on House Republicans to reject Poe because of his stance on pension reform. Illinois Family Action has called for Durkin’s rejection, in part because the group feared he would elevate pro-gay marriage Republicans into leadership.

Poe raised objections to the timing of the vote Wednesday, but Durkin said there’s a possibility that members who cannot attend can phone in their vote — but that’s still being decided. There are 47 Republicans in the Illinois House, which is not in session.

The scuffle comes after longtime House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) announced he is considering a bid for Illinois Treasurer. His flirtation with a statewide run has left him almost a lame duck in his caucus, weakening his leadership grip and triggering a behind-the-scenes succession battle that has been simmering since May.

On Wednesday, Durkin said he felt “confident” he would be named.

“The magic number is 24, and I should pass 24,” votes, Durkin said. Poe did not return a call seeking comment.

“We’ve got petitions going out soon – it would be nice to have our new candidates and our donors knowing with certainty who our new leader is going to be,” said Durkin.

Durkin has drawn the ire of some conservative groups because he was an enthusiastic booster of former state GOP chair Pat Brady, who came out in favor of gay marriage. Opposition to Poe stems from his position on pensions, which is aligned more with labor, reflective of a good part of his constituency, according to Springfield political scientist Kent Redfield.

Redfield said however the battle shakes out, Republicans are best served to quickly bridge any differences within the ranks.

“If you get a big regional fight, it then spills into the business [of the session],” Redfield said. “It’s really the last thing that they need, the House Republicans, given the fact that they are in such a small minority.”

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