The Ticket

Romney, Santorum look to Illinois, where polls are close

Chris Moody
The Ticket

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Santorum (Dusty Compton/AP)

Coming off victories in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday, Rick Santorum now faces a more formidable challenge against Mitt Romney in Illinois' Republican primary next week.

With 54 delegates at stake, the contest is an opportunity for Mitt Romney to make significant gains in increasing his delegate count. For Santorum, it is a chance to once again shake up the race with an upset.

Despite Romney "losing" two southern states on Tuesday, he received the most votes in caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa, netting more delegates than Santorum or Newt Gingrich, who finished just ahead of Romney in both Mississippi and Alabama. He now leads Santorum, his closest rival, by nearly 250 delegates, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The latest primary polls in Illinois show a close race: A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll of registered voters last week showed Romney leading with 35 percentage points, ahead of Santorum with 31, which is within the poll's margin of error.

In the days before the primary, Illinois airwaves will be flooded with ads supporting Romney, who is expected to spend $3 million on air time when you include spending by the campaign and the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. Compare that to Santorum, who has no air cover in the state as of this writing. Instead, Santorum is focusing his resources on the upcoming primaries in Puerto Rico and Louisiana.

This is not to say that big spending on ad buys automatically equates to victory. Santorum squeezed out victories in Mississippi and Alabama, where Romney outspent Santorum five to one and three to one, respectively.

Still, even if Santorum pulls off another upset in Illinois next week, it is unlikely that he'll be able to make a dent in the primary count. His campaign was unable to qualify in four congressional districts due to organizational problems, which automatically strips him of a chance at ten delegates from the start.

But even a popular-vote victory in Illinoisdespite not winning most of the delegateswill be a positive sign of strength for Santorum.

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