Fifty-four delegates are up for grabs Tuesday and 44% of likely GOP primary voters in Illinois say they are backing Mitt Romney, according to a recent poll conducted by CNN.
“Romney could really use a romp in Illinois. It wouldn’t put him over the top, but it would put him back on track with a head of steam,” said CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
After finishing third last Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi to his main rival for the nomination, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Romney regained a bit of momentum on Sunday when he trounced Santorum in Puerto Rico’s primary, getting 83% of the vote and picking up all 20 delegates up for grabs.
Now comes Illinois, with a large, somewhat moderate GOP electorate, thanks to the large number of voters in metropolitan Chicago. Call Illinois the new Michigan, or the new Ohio — the last two “must-win” states.
Back on February 28, pundits said Romney had to win Michigan, the state where he grew up and where his father was governor. He did.
A week later, on Super Tuesday, political analysts and strategists said Romney had to win the crucial battleground state of Ohio. Again, he did, narrowly edging out Santorum.
“If he and Santorum stay true to the template that fits most of the past contests, Santorum will pull strongly in rural and more conservative downstate Illinois and Romey will do better up north, in the more populous areas, particularly around Chicago and its suburbs,” said Crowley, anchor of CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak agrees.
“Illinois presents a must-win for Romney as the state’s more moderate makeup and urban population set up better for Romney than Santorum,” Mackowiak said.
Romney added events in Illinois on Friday morning and Saturday evening and all day Sunday, cutting back on time in Puerto Rico to Friday evening and Saturday morning.
He also dropped his emphasis on the math that he argued made it clear that he alone has the only shot during the primary and caucus season to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.