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Romney wins Illinois GOP primary


Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses supporters at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center on election night, Tuesday, March 20, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times



Updated: March 21, 2012 6:50AM

Illinois Republicans gave Mitt Romney the bragging rights he has sought for so long, handing him a big win in a Midwestern state.

“Thank you, Illinois, what a night!” Romney told fans in Schaumburg.

“Tonight we thank the people of Illinois for their vote and for this extraordinary victory.”

With a huge spending advantage and just about all the state’s elected Republicans behind him, Romney was leading challenger Rick Santorum 47 percent to 35 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Romney was declared the victor about 45 minutes after the polls closed.

Santorum, speaking in Gettysburg, Pa., said he called Romney to congratulate him and said while he lost the vote-rich Chicago area, “We’re going to win Downstate Illinois; we’re going to win central Illinois; we’re going to win western Illinois. We’re happy about the delegates we’re going to get, too.”

Romney — who already has twice the delegates Santorum has — appeared on track to win 42 Illinois delegates to 12 for Santorum. Romney will also get most of the state’s 15 super-delegates.

Romney immediately took aim at President Barack Obama, noting that he had given a speech Monday at the University of Chicago “Where Professor Obama taught constitutional law.”

Some of Romney’s fans at the Renaissance Hotel Convention Center in Schaumburg booed when he said Obama’s name. Romney touted the “economic freedom” theme he rolled out this week, promising a rollback of regulations he said Obama has enacted. In his 25 years in business, Romney said he has learned how regulations handcuff entrepreneurs.

“You can’t learn that teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago,” Romney said to laughter. “You can’t even learn that as a community organizer.”

In Pennsylvania, Santorum appeared under a banner that read “Freedom” and said, “I was pleased to hear before we came out here that Gov. Romney adopted the word in his speech tonight. I’m glad we’re moving the debate forward.”

Romney has been waiting for a decisive win in a Midwestern state after the narrow victories he eked out in Michigan and Ohio.

Santorum, all but rubbing the nose of a bronze Ronald Reagan statue for good luck Monday, had hoped for another come-from-behind miracle to keep his long-shot candidacy alive.

Now he’s banking on Louisiana’s contest Saturday, he said, and then he expects a “big win” in his home state of Pennsylvania next month.

Romney’s supporters listened to Grana Louise and the Troublemakers, a blues band.

Exit polls showed that 98 percent of the GOP vote in Illinois on Tuesday was white — and the crowd in the ballroom mirrored that statistic. Romney’s biggest donors — part of his National Finance Committee and people who were running on Romney delegate slates — watched the Illinois returns from a VIP room in another part of the hotel.

He held a fund-raiser in the middle of Election Day at Chicago’s Hilton and Towers Hotel and sent out a fund-raising email to supporters immediately after victory was declared.

Voter turnout was light in Illinois despite record-breaking warmth that robbed voters of their usual excuse for staying home in March.

Both candidates barnstormed the state this past week.

Santorum stopped at the boyhood home of Reagan in Dixon on Monday.

But he was only able to put half a million dollars of ads on the air against as much as $4 million in combined spending by Romney’s campaign and pro-Romney SuperPACs. The anti-Santorum ads drowned out Santorum’s message.

Santorum’s effort here has been handicapped by Illinois’ arcane election laws, which prevented him from running delegates in four of the state’s 18 congressional districts.

Just about all of Illinois’ Republican establishment and elected officials endorsed Romney, including U.S. Representatives Aaron Schock and John Shimkus, who helped rustle votes away from Santorum for Romney Downstate.

Ann Romney thanked them, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and other members of the state’s congressional delegation. She accidentally called Rep. Bob Dold “Don Bold.”

Just before Romney’s victory announcement, he telephoned Sen. Mark Kirk, an early endorser who is recovering from a stroke.

Ben Labolt, spokesman for Obama’s campaign, pointed on CNN to exit poll results showing only 21 percent of Illinois Republicans strongly supporting Romney.

Illinois GOP Chairman Patrick Brady quipped about the millions of dollars spent on advertising, mail and campaign infrastructure: “In just one week, our four Republican presidential candidates have brought more investment to Illinois than Barack Obama and Pat Quinn have in three years.”

Newt Gingrich, coming in fourth behind Ron Paul — they were at 8 percent and 9 percent respectively — issued this statement: “To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can’t nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1.”

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