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Big win in Illinois primary propels Mitt Romney closer to GOP nomination

His win in the Illinois primary does not cement his status as eventual GOP nominee, but it certainly firms it up. The next primary, Saturday in Louisiana, does not favor Mitt Romney, but many of the April contests do.

By Staff writer / March 21, 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann wave to a crowd during a election night rally in Schaumburg, Ill., Tuesday.

Steven Senne/AP

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Washington

Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary handily – both in the popular vote and in the delegate count – solidifying his status as the prohibitive favorite for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Mr. Romney’s superior organization and financial firepower, and a growing reputation as the most electable Republican in the field, sealed the deal in Illinois, a state whose GOP voter profile played to Romney’s strengths. Sixty percent of Tuesday’s voters said Romney was the most likely candidate to beat President Obama in November, higher than the average of exit polls in earlier contests.

“An improved sense that he understands voters’ problems boosted Mitt Romney to victory in the Illinois primary, as did a less religiously focused, less strongly conservative electorate than he’s faced in other contests, especially to the south,” writes Gary Langer, pollster for ABC News, in an analysis of the Illinois exit poll. “But a shortfall among less well-heeled Republicans marks his continued challenges.”

With 99 percent of the vote counted early Wednesday, Mr. Romney took 46.7 percent, Rick Santorum had 35 percent, Ron Paul had 9.3 percent, and Newt Gingrich had 8 percent. Nobody dropped out of the race, but Romney supporters hoped his double-digit victory in a big state would quiet talk of a contested GOP convention in August.

Romney won at least 43 of the 54 Illinois delegates up for grabs Tuesday, and Mr. Santorum won at least 10, according to the Associated Press. In the overall AP delegate count, Romney leads with 563 out of the 1,144 required to secure the nomination. Santorum has 263, Mr. Gingrich has 135, and Congressman Paul has 50.

The next contest, Saturday’s primary in Louisiana, plays more to Santorum’s advantage. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls there shows Santorum leading by 8.5 percentage points. But in April, the playing field tilts again toward Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, with seven contests in Northern states. Two big tests loom for Santorum: the April 3 primary in Wisconsin, where the two recent polls show Santorum strong, and the April 24 primary in Pennsylvania, which Santorum represented first in the House and then the Senate for total of 16 years, until 2007.

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