Illinois primary gives Romney 41 delegates

March 22, 2012 4:14:52 AM PDT
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney waved goodbye to Illinois as he left a Schaumburg hotel around noon Wednesday. On Tuesday night, Romney won the Illinois primary, moving him a big step closer to clinching the nomination.

For the latest election results for the Illinois Primary CLICK HERE. . .

Romney's campaign is dropping hints that it is time for his rivals -- including his closest competition Rick Santorum -- to bow out of the race.

After winning 46 percent of the vote in the Illinois primary, Romney now has more than double the delegates of Santorum. Trailing Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich finished distant third and fourth respectively.

After departing Schaumburg following his big win, Romney took his campaign out east to Maryland for a town hall meeting in Arbutus, the site of a similar event hosted four years ago by Senator John McCain.

Illinois Republican leaders, who have had their share of struggles in recent years, delivered for Mitt Romney better than most other state party organizations have done so far. In fact, the Illinois party chairman said the win in the state all but seals the nomination for Romney.

"He's the clear front runner. It's pretty much over," said Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady. "I think we need to coalesce around Governor Romney. I don't think there's any clear path for any of the other candidates to win."

Was Tuesday night's victory in the Illinois primary the turning point for Mitt Romney's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination? The state party chairman says, yes, now convinced the former Massachusetts governor will lead the party's ticket in November.

"If we don't have a strong candidate at the top of the ticket, we won't do well here, and I think Mitt Romney is a very strong candidate for the top of the ticket," Brady said.

But in Louisiana, where the next primary is scheduled for Saturday, Santorum declared the race far from over. The former Pennsylvania senator called Romney the "Etch A Sketch candidate" for allegedly changing positions on many issues.

"Imagine, had Mitt Romney been around at the time we were drafting our Constitution," said Santorum. "He would have just shaken it after it had been approved to rewrite it."

The frontrunner campaigned in Maryland Wednesday after receiving the endorsement of former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

"He said, 'Mitt, I want to let you know I'm endorsing you today,' and that was good news," said Romney.

Romney won at least 41 of the 54 Illinois delegates elected Tuesday, increasing his lead beyond a 2-to-1 margin over Santorum.

Tuesday, President Barack Obama's political strategist David Axelrod said he thought Romney's negativism during the primary campaign was hurting the Republican effort.

"It's been a relentlessly negative campaign, and I don't think that it's encouraged a whole lot of folks to come over to their camp," said Axelrod.

Most Democratic and Republican insiders say Illinois will be a so-called "flyover state" in the general election. Even if Romney wins the nomination, he will not spend significant campaign time and money in Illinois, where President Obama is favored to win his home state by a significant margin.

But, GOP Chairman Brady disagrees, believing Romney could return for another reason.

"He'll be back, he'll be back," Brady said. "They raise a lot of money here, so he'll be back."

Romney spent most of Tuesday raising money in the Chicago area. He spent the night at the same suburban hotel where he held his victory party.

Wednesday was Mitt and Ann Romney's 43rd wedding anniversary. They spent it on the campaign trail.

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