Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has won the Illinois Republican primary, giving his campaign a considerable momentum boost and dealing a blow to Rick Santorum.
With 53 percent of precincts reporting, Romney led Santorum 48-35. Ron Paul received 9 percent of the vote and Gingrich won 8 percent. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry captured 1 percent of the vote.
In Illinois, 69 delegates were at stake: 54 are directly elected by congressional district. Another 12 delegates are directly elected statewide, and another three delegates are the state’s RNC officials.
Romney and his super PAC outspent Santorum and his super PAC by about 7-1 in Illinois – with Romney funding more than $4 million on broadcast and cable ads to Santorum’s $530,000.
Santorum was already at a disadvantage before the primary because filing problems made him ineligible for 10 of the delegates at stake.
Prior to the Illinois race, Romney had 522 delegates; Santorum, 252; Gingrich, 136; and Paul, 50. A single candidate must capture 1,144 delegates to clinch the nomination at the August convention in Tampa, Fla.
Fox News reported that exit polls showed Romney doing well among self-described moderates and voters who consider “electability” to be a GOP candidate’s most important quality. Nearly 52 percent of moderates supported Romney, versus 24 percent for Santorum. Voters who said they wanted the nominee to exhibit strong moral character or be a “true conservative” favored Santorum.
Neither Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul campaigned vigorously in Illinois.
Romney recently crushed Santorum in Puerto Rico’s primary, where he picked up all 20 delegates and won 83 percent of the vote.
Just last weekend, Santorum expressed confidence that he could win Illinois, even suggesting that such an upset would “guarantee” he would get the GOP presidential nomination. On Tuesday, Santorum’s campaign indicated it would battle for the nomination at the Republican convention if needed.
“We do acknowledge that it’s difficult for any candidate to get to a majority prior to the national convention,” Santorum delegate director John Yob told CNN. “If this race goes to the floor of the national convention, we view that at as favorable terrain for Santorum because the delegates to the national convention will by and large be more conservative than the primary voters who voted in the binding contests.”
Meanwhile, Gingrich has been focusing on Louisiana, which will hold its primary Saturday. There are 25 delegates at stake in that state.
After Louisiana, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin will hold primaries on April 3, with 95 total delegates at stake. Santorum is not on the ballot in Washington, D.C., but he has been leading in the polls in Maryland.