Republican president candidate Mitt Romney took a commanding lead in Tuesday's Illinois primary, meaning that he has won a sizable number of delegates in the second-biggest group up for grabs so far this primary season. Josh Robin reports.
UNITED STATES -- While Illinois' 54 delegates at stake will not get either candidate past the delegate threshold of 1,144, it does seem to strengthen Romney's case that he is most likely to be the Republican nominee.
By 10 p.m. Tuesday, with 58 percent of Illinois' precincts reporting results, Mitt Romney had 48 percent of the vote, followed by 34 percent for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, 9 percent for Texas Congressman Ron Paul and 8 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Romney and Santorum were close in Illinois polls just a week ago, but Santorum was on the receiving end of a blitz of negative advertising.
Santorum, who spent part of the week campaigning in Puerto Rico, was also outspent 6-to-1 in Illinois and 21-to-1 in the Chicago area.
Romney won over the more moderate voters, residents of suburbs and those who were concerned about the economy.
"What a night, wow!" Romney said in his victory speech in Schaumburg Ill. "Each day we move closer not just to victory, but to a better America. Join us, join us."
Santorum had banked on winning over evangelicals downstate, but that was not enough.
Speaking to supporters in Gettysburg, Penn., Santorum began with a gracious concession that quickly morphed into a broadside against his rival. He essentially called him an untrustworthy opportunist who was willing to morph political positions with every poll.
"This is what America needs, and America wants. They want someone who's not going to Washington, D.C. because they want to be the most powerful person in the world to manage Washington. They want someone who's going to take that power and give it back to the people of this country," said Santorum.
The math is increasingly going against the former senator. Even if Santorum begins to win big, Romney is still seen to have a lock on ending the race with the most delegates.
Santorum's new strategy is to deny Romney enough delegates to secure the nomination, but that would unleash a fight at the Republican Party convention late this summer.
With this big loss, and an inhospitable field coming up, that is in doubt.
Still, aside from both wanting to be president, there is another thing Romney and Santorum have in common. Both are increasingly talking of freedom.
"This administration's assault on freedom has kept this so-called recovery from meeting their projections, let alone our expectations," said Romney.
Meanwhile, in Gettysburg, Santorum connected the Civil War with the current fight against the health care law President Barack Obama champions.
"All of us understand what was sacrificed in the mills, and in the battlefields, and that's why we must go out and fight this fight," said Santorum.
Neither Gingrich nor Paul competed in earnest in Illinois.
Gingrich put out a statement that criticized Romney for outspending his rivals and reiterated he is not dropping out until the Republican convention late this summer.
The next primary is in Louisiana on Saturday, where Santorum should do better. Unlike in Illinois, he will face competition from Gingrich and Paul.