Romney wins Illinois presidential primary
Schaumburg - Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary in Illinois on Tuesday night, further extending his lead over chief rival Rick Santorum.
Romney, a multimillionaire who has the backing of most of the Republican establishment but struggles with the party's more conservative wing, is well ahead of Santorum in the overall race for delegates to choose a candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in the November election.
A defeat in Illinois would have triggered fresh anxiety within the party about the Romney's ability to win over its base.
Santorum, a Catholic who is favored by religious conservatives, has almost no hope of overtaking Romney in the tally of delegates who will choose the nominee.
Early exit polling in Illinois showed Romney was preferred by voters seeking a candidate to oust Obama, and by those worried about the economy and federal deficit.
Santorum had robust backing from people seeking a real conservative and a contender with a strong moral character, and from the most religiously driven voters. But Illinois has only modest proportions of such voters.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, had 522 delegates going into the Illinois voting, according to The Associated Press count. Santorum had 252, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 136 and Texas Representative Ron Paul 50. Delegates are allocated through state-by-state primary elections and caucuses, and a candidate needs 1 144 delegates to secure the nomination.
Neither Gingrich nor Paul campaigned extensively in Illinois.
Still, Romney's inability to shake off a seemingly weak rival like Santorum, an ex-US senator from Pennsylvania with little national following until a few months ago, highlights the struggles of his candidacy, reflecting his inability to generate excitement among Republican voters. It also means Romney has to spend time and money fighting primary battles instead of turning his full attention to defeating Obama.
In Illinois, Romney held an advantage in the competition for delegates to the Republican National Convention in August thanks to his superior campaign organization.
Santorum was ineligible for 10 of the 54 delegates at stake on Tuesday because his campaign didn't file the necessary paperwork.
His campaign argued on Tuesday that the race for delegates is closer than many people think.
Their count, which cuts back on Romney's delegates, assumes that the Republican National Committee will force Florida and Arizona to allocate their delegates on a proportional basis instead of winner-take-all. Romney won both states.