Romney Wins Big In Illinois, And This Race Is (Almost) Over

Mitt Romney won big in Illinois last night, and moved a big step closer to wrapping this race up.

We saw a familiar pattern playing out last night in Illinois, another big Midwestern state, another state Mitt Romney had to win to avoid another week of the narrative spinning against him, and, this time, a decisive win that created no doubts for the pundits to latch on to, and which makes the argument in favor of either of his primary opponents (there’s no point in including Ron Paul in that list) even more tenuous:

CHICAGO — Mitt Romney swept to victory in the Illinois Republican primary on Tuesday, using the full force of his campaign and an argument that he has the best chance of defeating President Obama to overcome doubts among the more conservative voters at the heart of his party.

After his narrow margins of victory in battleground states like Michigan and Ohio and losses in Southern states kept alive questions about his ability to rally his party behind him, Mr. Romney recorded a sizable victory over his closest rival, Rick Santorum, in Illinois’s popular vote.

He was poised to collect about three times as many delegates as Mr. Santorum, which aides hoped would increase his lead enough to tamp down talk of a contested convention and build an unassailable advantage in the race for the nomination. And his supporters began making the case anew that it was time for the party to come together for the fall campaign against Mr. Obama.

As Mr. Romney addressed supporters in a hotel ballroom in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, he congratulated his rivals and immediately turned his focus to the president. He belittled Mr. Obama’s experience as a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago and as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, saying the president was ill suited to lead the nation to economic prosperity.

“It’s time to say this word: enough. We’ve had enough,” he said. “We know our future’s brighter than these troubled times. We still believe in America, and we deserve a president who believes in us, and I believe in the American people.”

Illinois is the third state in the industrial Midwest that Mr. Romney has carried in the last month. The electorate, particularly in the suburbs of Chicago, where he overwhelmed Mr. Santorum, was also reflective of relatively moderate states that will vote across the Northeast in April.

Surveys of Illinois Republicans leaving polling places showed that Mr. Romney not only won among the groups that usually support him — moderates, college graduates and wealthier voters — but also was competitive among Mr. Santorum’s generally more loyal coalition of Tea Party supporters and married women.

Indeed, if one takes a look at the Exit Polls, Romney did very well last night among groups that he’s supposedly been having problems with:

  • Romney won conservative voters (47%) over Santorum (39%), and in came within 5% of Santorum among “very conservative voters;
  • Romney beat Santorum 47% to 36% among Tea Party supporters
  • Romney beat Santorum among all income groups, except those earning less than $30,000 per year
  • Romney beat Santorum among Protestants (45% to 38%) and Catholics (53% to 30%)
  • If only Romney and Santorum had been on the ballot, Romney would have won 48% to 40%
  • 60% of all voters said Romney is the candidate most likely to defeat Obama, Santorum is a distant second at 22%

Of course, vote totals and exit polls aren’t really what matters. What matters are delegate counts, and Romney’s big victory last night translate into a very good night in the delegate column. Final numbers are still being calculated from three Congressional Districts, but as of now it looks like the most likely delegate split will be 42 delegates for Romney to 12 for Santorum, a net gain of thirty delegates. Not enough to put Romney over the top, obviously, but more than enough to put him closer to the magic number of 1,144 and, more importantly, put more distance between him and Santorum. Indeed, the RealClearPolitics Delegate Count, which includes. those 42 delegates from Illinois, now puts Romney at 560 delegates, just 584 delegates short of the needed majority. Santorum’s current delegate count stands at 246, 898 delegates short of a majority.

So, let’s do some delegate math:

  • Not counting Republican Superdelegates, there are 1,197 delegates yet to be awarded. Romney would need to win 48.78% of those delegates, Santorum would need to win 75.02% of those delegates
  • After April there are winner-take-all primaries in 6 states where Romney is likely to win (Delaware, Maryland, D.C., New Jersey, California, and Utah). These account for 335 of the 1197 outstanding delegates. None of the states where Santorum is likely to win are winner take all.

Based on this, it seems rather clear that Romney will indeed be able to eke out a majority before the campaign rolls into Tampa at the end of August, and that the odds of Santorum either catching him or being able to deny him an outright majority are minimal at best. In all honestly, though, those chances are realistically non-existent. Given how the delegate allocation has gone to date (Romney has won 55.28% of the 1,013 delegates allocated to date), the idea of him winning at least 48% of the remaining delegates is not only conceivable, but highly likely. The odds of Santorum, who has won roughly 20% of the delegates to date, being able to win 75% of the remaining delegates is not only inconceivable, but laughingly so.

Of course, none of this is likely to cause Santorum, or Gingrich, to drop out of the race any time soon. Gingrich’s intentions are, as I’ve said, only known to Newt Gingrich. He doesn’t strike me as a dumb man, so he has to realize the math here, but he also strikes me as a guy who believes he has some kind of special destiny and that if he just stays in the race the GOP will turn away from the guy who’s gotten the most delegates and the most votes, and turn to him. It’s crazy, it’s megalomaniacal, but it’s Newt. As for Santorum, one suspects that his campaign knows the jig is up but still wants to put up the good fight in exchange for some kind of power at the convention. They may get some bragging rights on Saturday in Louisiana (which Romney would be wise to ignore, in my opinion) but the real test will come on April 3rd when Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Wisconsin hold contests. Santorum is unlikely to do well in Maryland and isn’t even on the ballot in D.C., but if he’s unable to win Wisconsin that will be a fourth big industrial Midwestern state that he will have lost. At that point, he may stay in the race until Pennsylvania or even beyond but it seems unlikely that the media will be taking his campaign very seriously.

The fat lady hasn’t started her aria yet, but she’s backstage warming up and this race is (finally) almost over.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    It was over after Florida voted. When you win the first big state by double digits in a three-way contest you’re going to be the nominee, unless there’s a videotape out there of the Rob Lowe variety.

    That said, I think the point you made in your 1st graf really is the kicker: that even the pundits no longer are able to search far and wide for a story about which to write. Looking at this morning’s headlines and 1st grafs it’s quite clear that even some of the most partisan and ratings-deprived media outfits fast are moving away from the contested or brokered convention meme.

    Regarding Santorum, at this point he might be angling for the Veep slot, although IMO that would be a major mistake from Romney’s perspective, despite the evangelical problem with which Romney is saddled.

    Concerning Gingrich, I’m far from being a fan of his, but honestly watching him at this point of his disintegration is so pathetic it’s almost painful. It’s like watching a long-faded boxer who went broke stepping into the ring to receive yet another beating for a middling payday.

  2. Fiona says:

    In his speech last night, Santorum sounded like he’d stick around until Pennsylvania, delegate count be damned. Maybe, he’ll be the home state favorite but, if so, I’d be willing to bet it’s the last state he manages to win.

    None of these clowns generates any excitement. Voter turnout in Illinois was at pretty much an all-time low yesterday. Seems like Republicans are resigned to their fate–and its name is Romney. Yawn.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Santorum’s actual bankable results in Illinois were somewhat lower than the raw counts might lead you to expect. Yesterday I had a number of voters who will unquestionably vote for Obama in the fall cast their votes yesterday for Santorum strategically—because they thought he’d be the easier candidate for Obama to beat. I think that’s a dumb strategy but it’s the strategy they were advocating.

    Multiply that by a couple of thousand precincts and you’ve probably got 50,000 to 100,000 fewer actual Santorum votes.

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I think that’s a dumb strategy but it’s the strategy they were advocating.

    Unworkable yes, but why would you say dumb?

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Romney might have underperformed on the delegate count because of Illinois’ confusing rules, where you vote for your favorite candidate in a “beauty contest,” but the real votes are with the delegates. Sometimes, a popular delegate will get a vote, even if they aren’t supporting the “right” candidate. The 16th Congressional District picked two Romney delegates and one Santorum. The 18th picked three Romney delegates and one Santorum. That suggests Santorum’s organization is not completely inept, they may have snuck two.

    The main factor in the race was population density. From what I can tell all counties and metropolitan areas containing an Illinois city with a population of at least 50,000 went for Romney, all of the rest went with Santorum. Not a new dynamic here.

    Biggest surprise was how well Santorum did in the Northwest part of the state; not particularly evangelical, settled by Yankees and Scandinavians. Bodes trouble for Romney in Wisconsin.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    @Ben Wolf: Because your children may not get a job or you might have problems with your trash pick-up.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The reason that I think it’s dumb is that it assumes that Obama is unbeatable by Santorum. I think that if the economy takes another nosedive, there’s another wave of mass layoffs, the price of gasoline goes up to $6 a gallon (just to name a few things) any Republican candidate might be able to beat Obama.

    None of those things are under the president’s control. There’s very little even a compliant Congress would be able to do about them in the near term let alone the Congress we have.

    The number of things beyond any campaign’s control (economic depression in Europe, recession in China, an Israeli strike on Iran, etc.) is just too large to risk putting somebody you really, really, really don’t want in the White House.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Well, there is that. There was one guy who buttonholed me in the hall and asked me why the hell I’d allowed his Democratic precinct captain to witness the proceedings, including that he’d asked for a Republican ballot. I responded that the precinct captain was a credentialed Democratic Party pollwatcher and I was required by law to allow him to witness the proceedings.

    He was still hot under the collar (probably for the reasons PD suggested) but he realized I was just doing my job.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    @Dave Schuler: Of course, it works both ways. I have a friend whose son worked a temp job for the state in the early 90s and applied for the permanent position and was told he wouldn’t be hired because his parents voted in the Democratic primaries.

  10. Tillman says:

    (there’s no point in including Ron Paul in that list)

    But, but his delegate strategy! The Paul campaign said they’d have a sneaky delegate strategy!


  11. An Interested Party says:

    Even if Romney gets the GOP nomination, he still has an uphill battle as many people don’t like him

  12. Moosebreath says:


    Interesting article. Jon Chait uses the same numbers, but goes into the whys a bit more (and has a better title to his piece).

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Even if Romney gets the GOP nomination, he still has an uphill battle as many people don’t like him…

    This is putting it mildly, and Obama hasn’t fired a shot yet. I saw a poll out of VA yesterday and he was beating Romney by about 8 points. Virginia! Not that I attach too much attention to polls at this stage like that national one from last week that had both Romney and Santorum beating him but Romney’s unfave gap is mega and as all the old issues get revisited I don’t see much upside. And now he’s had to endorse the Ryan budget which is totally insane (and I’m not just talking about the scrapping of Medicare/Medicaid here).

  14. An Interested Party says:

    It would be a delicious irony if the one person whose supposedly best attribute was the ability to beat the President saw that attribute come to nothing as Romney’s already tarnished reputation was completely smashed in the general election…

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    @An Interested Party:

    I’ve long held that Romney was a potentially weaker candidate than someone like Gingrich because at the end of the day elections are about turnout. The Republicans claim that Obama hate is going to be sufficient to turnout all Republican voters although it’s obvious many of them have no enthusiasm for Romney. Maybe…. but it’s a slender reed to rest a campaign on against someone like Obama who outside the base is certainly not hated on a personal level. There’s serious chance much of the white working class who have been a mainstay of the GOP are going to bolt in areas outside the south over issues like the auto bailout, attacks on union workers and Medicare.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    There’s serious chance much of the white working class who have been a mainstay of the GOP are going to bolt in areas outside the south over issues like the auto bailout, attacks on union workers and Medicare.

    Indeed…there may be a long memory in the Midwest about who helped save Detroit and who didn’t want that to happen…I’m sure we’ll also be hearing quite a bit about Paul Ryan and his ilk and what they want to do with Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid…meanwhile, we can file this in the “Things We Already Knew” Department…Mitt Romney as Etch-A Sketch…

  17. Randy says:

    Memo to America: Stop waiting for Democrats and Republicans to save you. It’s bad
    for your health and your future. Can’t you tell? You have another choice – use it!

    OsiXs (Revolution 2.0 – The Smart Revolution)

  18. AppleinAZ says:

    Three things. I really like the Helpful / Unhelpful tag, that you don’t have to log in to use. Two, do you have the rights to that photo. Three, that excerpt seems to go well beyond fair use. OK, a fourth. Romney will go more towards the center because the conservative voter in a Republican primary process is not the majority of General election voters. There is an argument to be made for sticking to principles, but being president has never ever been about that. The country would be much more better off if there was more compromise, not less, because there is no majority of thought all the time; doesn’t having the same thoughts all the time sound like communism?