A recent poll by the Paul Simon Institute for Public Policy at Southern Illinois University shows that more than half of all Illinoisans consider themselves Democrats.

By contrast, just 31 percent of the 600 registered voters surveyed earlier this month identified themselves as having Republican leanings.

That means GOP leaders need to figure out how to capture votes from the 9.5 percent who say they are independent and the 7.8 percent who simply said they didn’t know which party they identify with.

Even if you split that 17.3 percent down the middle at election time, Democrats are going to continue to dominate at election time.

That’s why it was so interesting to see how Republicans voted on the issue of gay marriage in the Illinois Senate recently.

Their party leader, Pat Brady, had come out in favor of the issue and was making phone calls last month urging Republicans to vote “yes.”

After the Republican losses in Illinois in the November election, his call was seen as a move toward the middle, much like some GOP lawmakers who decided to get behind a push to allow illegal immigrants to get special driver’s licenses.

Brady’s decision inspired a failed revolution among conservatives in the party. Among those calling for Brady’s ouster was the McLean County Republican Party’s central committee, headed by longtime chairman John Parrott of Bloomington.

In an ironic twist, newly elected state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who represents a chunk of McLean County, was the lone Republican to vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage.

This outraged Parrott, who wouldn’t answer my question the other day whether he will be working to find someone to run against Barickman when the 37-year-old attorney is up for re-election in 2016.

But, while Barickman may be sitting on the hot seat these days, he isn’t sitting on the sidelines.

That would be Parrott. He recently put his party chairmanship duties on hold for a few months, announcing to members of his inner circle that he’s taking a leave of absence to get his business on track. Parrott recently bought a work clothes supply company and was traveling on business in Nevada when I reached him last week.

He said he’s left the operation of the county party to his colleagues and will get back in the saddle in April or May.

“I have been extremely busy because of the activity going on,” Parrott said. “I thought it was a good time to do what I’ve got to get done.”

Parrott’s absence could be good for Barickman: The freshman senator won’t have to face the angry former head of the Illinois Christian Coalition for at least a few months.

Barickman’s controversial vote, however, is going to be parsed a million different ways.

While he described his decision to push his green button as “the right thing to do,” some Republicans believe he decided that a “yes” vote would put him in the good graces of Brady when it comes time to start parceling out slots in the 2014 statewide election.

Would a downstate Republican who favors gay marriage help balance out a gubernatorial ticket led by a more conservative suburban candidate?

It’s just one more thing for Republicans to consider in their attempt to become relevant in Illinois politics again.

Prison meet

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, will be among a handful of legislators meeting with S.A. “Tony” Godinez on Wednesday.

Godinez heads the troubled Illinois Department of Corrections. He has been in the cross hairs for the past year because of overcrowding and what rank-and-file employees say is a corresponding rise in violence.

Perhaps the delegation can finally get an answer on exactly when the agency will launch an early inmate release program that’s been in the works for months.

Gov. Pat Quinn last week said the program had indeed begun.

“It’s starting right now; we’re carrying it out right now,” Quinn told reporters during a rare visit to the capital city.

That comment triggered a scramble among his press staffers who tried to walk the statement back after it was learned the program hadn’t actually started.

Perhaps Quinn should join Luechtefeld at the meeting so he can find out what’s going on in his own agency.

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