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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Romney Wins Illinois! Santorum's Unemployment Comments Cost Him - Romney To Be GOP Nominee

Romney wins Illinois primary, Fox News projects

Mitt Romney beat back Rick Santorum in the Illinois Republican presidential primary Tuesday, Fox News projects, notching his latest win in an industrial state after shelling out big bucks on advertising.

The victory delivers a setback to Santorum, with just a few contests left on the calendar until late April. And it helps Romney build his case that he is marching inexorably toward the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

It's too early to say how the candidates will split up the 54 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday, but Romney will certainly be able to pad his lead in the overall delegate race.

Very early returns show Romney leading with 54 percent in Illinois, followed by Santorum with 28 percent. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are battling for third place.

The candidates head next to Louisiana, where polling shows Santorum has the edge, but the state is not worth as many delegates as Illinois.

Santorum had fought hard for an Illinois upset, campaigning in the state and hoping to follow up his back-to-back wins in Alabama and Mississippi a week earlier.

Despite those wins, Santorum has struggled to make any delegate gains on Romney, who most recently added to his lead with a shut-out victory in Puerto Rico over the weekend.

In Illinois, Romney invested heavily ahead of Tuesday's vote. Romney and the super PAC that supports him outspent Santorum and his super PAC by roughly 7-1 in the state.

Operational problems in the Santorum camp also opened the door for Romney to win more delegates on Tuesday, regardless of the outcome. Because of filing problems, Santorum was ineligible for 10 of the 54 delegates at stake.

Exit polls in the state showed Romney dominating among self-described moderates, as well as voters who view electability as the most important candidate quality.

Romney enjoyed 52 percent of support among moderates, compared with 24 percent for Santorum.

Santorum was leading among voters who most want their nominee to either have strong moral character or be a "true conservative."

Though Gingrich and Paul continue to campaign, neither campaigned extensively in Illinois.

The two trail in delegates, with Gingrich at 136 and Paul at 50.

Including Romney's victory last weekend in Puerto Rico, the former Massachusetts governor had 522 delegates going into the Illinois voting, according to The Associated Press count. Santorum had 252. It takes 1,144 to win the nomination.

Going into Illinois, Romney and Santorum sparred over their economic credentials.

"Senator Santorum has the same economic lightweight background the president has," Romney said at one point. "We're not going to replace an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight."

Santorum had a tart reply: "If Mitt Romney's an economic heavyweight, we're in trouble."

As Illinois Republicans voted on Tuesday, Romney raised more than $1.3 million at a luncheon in Chicago.

He planned an election-night event in nearby Schaumburg, Ill., while Santorum was in Gettysburg, Pa., site of Illinois favorite son Abraham Lincoln's most famous speech.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, has been seeking to make up in broadcast interviews what he has lacked in advertising money.

On Monday, his campaign began before sun-up and ended well after dark, including four appearances at rallies around the state, as well as an extraordinary 19 radio and television interviews.

He accused Romney anew of putting his signature on a Massachusetts health insurance law that is similar to the one Obama pushed through Congress.

Romney cut short his planned time in Puerto Rico, site of caucuses last weekend, to maximize his time in Illinois. He has eked out victories in other big industrial states over the past few weeks, beginning in Michigan on Feb. 28 and Ohio on March 6.

In Illinois, as in Michigan and Ohio, Romney enjoyed an enormous advantage in TV advertising. His campaign and Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports him, outspent Santorum and his super PAC by $3.5 million to $500,000, an advantage of at least 7-1.

One estimate by the Campaign Media Analysis Group, cited by CBS News, put the margin at 18-1.

Illinois was the 28th state to hold a primary or caucus in the selection of delegates to the nominating convention, about halfway through the calendar of a Republican campaign that has remained competitive longer than most.

Next up is a primary Saturday in Louisiana, where Santorum projects confidence following twin triumphs a week ago in Alabama and Mississippi.

There are 25 delegates at stake. After Louisiana is a three-primary night in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin on April 3, with 95 delegates combined at stake.

Santorum is not on the ballot in Washington, D.C., but is ahead in opinion polls in Maryland. Wisconsin -- adjacent to Illinois -- shapes up as the most competitive primary of the night.

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Sources: CBS News, CNN, Fox News, Google Maps

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