Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney scored a decisive win in Tuesday night’s Illinois Republican presidential primary, CNN projected, putting him in position to pick up the lion’s share of 54 delegates up for grabs.
“Thank you, Illinois. What a night,” the candidate said in Schaumburg. “Elections are about choices. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois joined millions of people in this country in this cause.”
Romney resumed his front-runner attacks on President Barack Obama and his economic, health care and spending policies.
“The simple truth is this president does not understand the genius of this economy … the American economy is fueled by freedom,” Romney told cheering supporters.
Romney had leads in Chicago, suburban Cook County, DuPage County and Lake County, local clerk and election board results indicated. Santorum was faring better in smaller counties, including Winnebago, Peoria and Madison.
In Chicago, Romney had 56% of the total with 87% of precincts reporting. Santorum notched 25%. In Lake County, one of the “collar counties” near Chicago, Romney had 56% with all precincts reporting, according to the clerk’s office website. Santorum had 28%.
The delegates at stake in Illinois will be awarded proportionately, but for Romney, capturing the popular vote was just as important as increasing his lead in delegates.
“Romney won with tea party voters. He won with Catholics,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told CNN. “There are a lot of groups within the Republican party, and Governor Romney has won their votes. And we’re excited that it looks like we’ll have a good night tonight.”
Speaking in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Santorum said he congratulated Romney for his win in Illinois.
“(The campaign) all boils down to (touting) freedom. I am pleased Gov. Romney adopted that theme in his speech tonight.”
Santorum said he did well in rural, more conservative areas away from the Chicago suburbs.
And he expected to do better in upcoming primaries and caucuses.
“We are feeling very, very good about winning Louisiana on Saturday,” Santorum told backers.
Romney finished third in Alabama and Mississippi primaries a week ago, behind Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. But unlike the Deep South states, Illinois has a large, somewhat moderate GOP electorate heavily concentrated in the suburban “collar counties” around Chicago.