Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney easily won the Illinois Republican primary, claiming the majority of the 54 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday and distancing himself from his nearest competitor.
Unlike last Tuesday, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum surprised Romney with a pair of narrow victories in Alabama and Mississippi after a tense night, Romney settled the contest quickly and decisively. (RELATED: Follow the Illinois results with this map from Google and The Associated Press)
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Romney led Santorum 46.7 percent to 35 percent. Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished third with 9.3 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich brought up the rear with 8 percent.
The Associated Press reported that Romney secured at least 41 delegates in the “Land of Lincoln.” Santorum claimed 10 delegates, with three still too close to call. Romney now has 563 delegates, according to the AP, almost half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination for president.
In his victory speech, Romney focused, as he has done after past wins, on President Barack Obama by trying to paint a contrast between a “law professor” and a “businessman.”
“I am offering a real choice and a new beginning,” he declared. “I am running for president because I have the experience and the vision to get us out of this mess. We know what Barack Obama’s vision of America is — we’ve all lived it the last three years. Mine is very different.”
The former Massachusetts governor staked his campaign on the metro Chicago area — the most densely populated part of the state — outspending his closest rival 21 to 1 in the Chicago-area media market. (RELATED: Romney sounds like GOP nominee in victory speech)
The Romney campaign was hoping for a convincing victory, and it got what it wanted. The Santorum campaign, on the other hand, had hoped to win delegates in the more rural, conservative parts of the state as it looks for momentum heading into Saturday’s Louisiana primary.
Santorum, home in Pennsylvania, said that the country does not need a “manager” for the economy, and he continued to paint Romney as too similar to Obama on health care.
Meanwhile, Gingrich and Paul struggled to compete in Illinois, with both turning their attention to Louisiana.
Paul has scheduled a pair of town halls on college campuses Friday.
“Young people and true conservatives know he’s the only candidate who will bring real change to Washington, balance the budget, and boost our economy,” said Edward King, the Paul campaign’s youth director.
Finishing fourth behind Paul, Gingrich showed no sign of dropping out of the race, tweeting that “a nominee that depresses turnout won’t beat Barack Obama.”
“To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can’t nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1,” Gingrich said in a statement. “Instead, we need a nominee who offers powerful solutions that hold the president accountable for his failures.”