A few weeks ago, the polls in Illinois were fairly close between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, but the most recent string of polls showed a Romney lead building steadily with each passing day. Santorum clung to hopes that he’d pull off a big upset. In the end, the race was called for Romney fairly early in the evening, and he looks to have a solid double-digit lead.
As predicted, Romney was strong in the suburbs, particularly the Chicago area. CNN’s exit polls said “more than 70 percent of the state’s voters were from suburban areas.” As in other crucial races, Romney had an enormous funding advantage over Santorum, outspending him in Illinois by seven to one according to CNN’s analysis. Other media groups figured it could have been even higher. Fox News reports that Romney actually raised another million dollars in Chicago during a luncheon on the very day of the primary.
For his part, Santorum has been working hard to overcome his financial disadvantage with a remarkably energetic series of media interviews. His campaign has reaffirmed Santorum’s intention to remain in the race until the Republican National Convention, believing he might still be able to deny Romney a clear victory and force a showdown on the convention floor.
54 delegates are at stake in tonight’s contest. Due to filing problems, Santorum ended up ineligible for 10 of them. Romney had over 50 percent of the overall vote in early counts, putting him on track to not only increase his delegate lead – and reduce the number of plausible scenarios in which Santorum could come up with the necessary 1,144 delegates to win the nomination – but also win a substantial victory in the popular vote.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, meanwhile, lagged far behind Romney and Santorum, with less than ten percent of the vote each. Gingrich also reiterated his determination to stay in the race, and has been campaigning heavily in Louisiana, where the next primary will be held on March 24.
Update: Video of Mitt Romney’s victory speech from Schaumburg, Illinois:
Update: With 99 percent of the vote tallied, Romney won by 12 points, 47-35 over Santorum. Romney’s victory is even more impressive measured in delegates, 41 to Santorum’s 10, with three delegates still undecided as of Wednesday morning.