Illinois House Republican Leader Lee Daniels summoned his top lieutenants to Springfield last week for what was billed as an election strategy session. Instead, the meeting immediately morphed into a war council, as Daniels and his leadership team talked about how to fend off a surprisingly strong coup attempt.

Sources say about 30 House Republicans have signed a letter that asks Daniels to step down as House GOP Leader. If that's true, the renegades are now a majority of all House Republicans. Governor George Ryan has become involved with trying to put down the revolt, calling some coup plotters to state his firm support for Daniels and trying to calm some very panicky nerves. A few people close to Daniels have also been attempting to stop the stampede by confiding that Daniels just wants to serve out his current term as leader and will step down in January.

Daniels' House operation is under federal investigation for allegedly subsidizing campaigns with taxpayer dollars - sometimes by falsifying documents. The probe has already resulted in Daniels resigning his long-sought chairmanship of the Illinois Republican Party, and now it threatens to destroy the rest of his career.

How much immediate danger this situation actually poses to Daniels is questionable, though. For one thing, some key Republican legislators with lots of fundraising and campaign experience are, for various reasons, either taking a pass on the coup or trying to stop it. These legislators also happen to be among the most ambitious in the bunch, and all of them will likely stop anyone else from obtaining the top spot by putting pressure on Republican-leaning interest groups to withhold crucial campaign funds from the coup plotters. After all, no matter how much the interest groups want Daniels out - and many do - they also want him replaced with someone competent. And because all the qualified successors are refusing to overtly shove the knife in Daniels' back, there's no reason for the lobbyists to stick out their necks.

The only formal mechanism for removing Daniels and replacing him before the elections is a special legislative session, but Governor Ryan has told some of the coup plotters that he will not call any special session. So, the best the plotters could hope for would be a Daniels resignation, but that action would probably require an enormous amount of public pressure, which means somebody would have to drop a big-time dime on the guy - huge enough that Daniels would have no choice but to run away in shame. I doubt the plotters have enough brass for that sort of nasty game.

Plus, such a bombshell disclosure would make an already bad publicity situation much worse. Remember, this is still only July. Nobody pays attention to politics in July. The longer this fight runs, the greater the chance that it pops up on everybody's radar screen. Not to mention that the House Republicans would have no one running the operation if Daniels resigned. The brightest Repubs could spend the next few months jockeying over who will replace Daniels, rather than focusing on the election.

Without his resignation, though, the plotters believe they won't be able to accept money or staff from Daniels this fall without being tainted by his scandal. They're probably right. But if Daniels doesn't resign (and there is little in his history to suggest he will step down), it's still possible to devise a way around this problem by forming a new campaign committee without Daniels' overt fingerprints, or directing contributions to individual candidates rather than to Daniels' House Republican Campaign Committee.

Ideally, the mortally wounded Daniels would quietly step down and his members would amicably choose a temporary replacement until they could formally vote on the matter after the election.

But this situation is far from ideal. Daniels has the rules on his side and is far too stubborn to resign without some sort of nuclear explosion. And even if he did quit, replacing him would be a bloody mess.

My heart is with the coup plotters. They have plenty of courage and Daniels is definitely an embarrassment. But my head tells me the plotters have no idea what they'll do after they storm the palace, and even if they did, they don't possess the talent to follow through. Daniels is often criticized for never having an endgame in mind when he makes a big move. He devises tactics on the fly, almost always with less than stellar results. Unfortunately, his enemies are now guilty of the same thing.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).

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