Illinois primed as next GOP battleground

March 7, 2012 2:56:10 PM PST
With no obvious winner in the Republican presidential race, the Illinois Primary on March 20 is taking on greater significance.

Illinois Republican leaders expect a bigger voter turnout and hope the presidential race will generate enthusiasm for congressional and state races.

With Super Tuesday delivering a variety of victories for the Republican presidential candidates, Illinois becomes the next big prize -- 54 delegates are at stake.

"It's exciting, probably not since '88 that we will have a contested Republican primary. We're looking forward to it," Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said.

While the Illinois Republican Party establishment and money are backing Mitt Romney, the Rick Santorum campaign says not to rule out the former Pennsylvania senator's support in Illinois.

"He's already very popular downstate and he's going to be competing for votes in the suburbs and city districts where we have delegates," Penny Pullen, IL chairwoman of Santorum for President, said.

As a 1976 graduate of Mundelein's Carmel High School, Santorum is the only Republican candidate with any Illinois ties. However, the Romney campaign says Santorum's Illinois connections and support will not be enough to pick up all the delegates. Santorum is already at a disadvantage because he only qualifies for 44 delegates because he filed delegate slates in 14 of the 18 congressional districts.

The Romney campaign says a victory in Illinois will give him an easy path to the nomination.

"Each time Governor Romney builds another victory, he attains another win, he just continues to show that he is the man that is going to be able to take it all the way through and go the distance. You're finding a number of people that perhaps are waiting on the sidelines saying no, I see that this is happening, it's time to come onboard," Dan Rutherford, IL chairman of Romney for President, said.

The Romney campaign says not only are delegates flowing their way, so is the money. On Wednesday, the national campaign announced it raised 11.5 million in the month of February. The Santorum campaign was not too far behind after raising more than $9 million.

Look for both candidates to make Illinois stops in the next two weeks.