Romney cruises to victory in Puerto Rico

2012-03-19 09:52

Washington - Mitt Romney won an overwhelming victory Sunday over chief rival Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico's Republican presidential primary, but Romney was campaigning in the critical heartland state of Illinois ahead of that state's primary on Tuesday — another chance to prove he's the best choice to challenge President Barack Obama in the November election.

The former Massachusetts governor has been unable to win the hearts of the party's conservative base who distrust Romney for his moderate past positions on important social issues like abortion and gay rights.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said he was in the contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner, even though he comfortably leads in the fight for delegates to the nominating convention. Santorum campaigned on Sunday in the southern state of Louisiana, which holds its primary on Saturday.

"This is a primary process where somebody had a huge advantage, huge money advantage, huge advantage of establishment support and he hasn't been able to close the deal and even come close to closing the deal," Santorum said of Romney. "That tells you that there's a real flaw there."

To gain the nomination, Romney must accumulate 1 144 delegates to the Republican National Convention — allocated through state-by-state primary elections and caucuses. Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.

Before Puerto Rico's vote was in, Romney had 501 delegates, more than all of his rivals combined. Santorum stands at 253, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 136, and Texas Representative Ron Paul is at 50, according to an Associated Press projection.

Late on Sunday night, with 61% of the Puerto Rican votes counted, Romney had 83 % of them. He won all 20 delegates to the national convention at stake because he prevailed with more than 50% of the vote. That padded his comfortable lead over Santorum in the race to amass the 1 144 delegates needed to clinch.