GOP battle pushes into Prairie State

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum speaks in front of a statue of former President Ronald Reagan at a "Rally for Rick" campaign stop in Dixon, Illinois, March 19, 2012. Dixon is the boyhood home of Reagan.

Credits: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes


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CHICAGO, Ill. -- What do Puerto Ricans and Illinoisans have in common?

Mitt Romney is hoping they both want him to be the Republican candidate in November's presidential election.

Tuesday's big contest in the GOP race in Illinois comes on the heels of the frontrunner's landslide win in Puerto Rico on Sunday, where he won all 23 delegates and more than 80% of the vote in the U.S. territory.

Romney, who was polling nine to 15 points ahead of Rick Santorum in the Prairie State on the eve of the Tuesday's contest, focussed on his business acumen in his final pitch to voters here. He also blasted President Barack Obama and Santorum as "economic lightweights."

"I believe I have the best chance and perhaps the only chance of actually replacing Barack Obama as the president of the United States. And I say that in part because I don't think we are going to replace an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight," Romney said Sunday in Rockford, Ill. "I didn't learn about the economy just reading about it, or hearing about it in the faculty lounge at Harvard, or debating it in Congress. I instead learned about the economy by starting a business."

Santorum, who has been vastly outspent in Illinois as elsewhere by Romney and his supporters, went on the attack Monday saying Romney has no conservative "core," and painted the former venture capitalist as a Wall St. insider who is not fit to govern the country.

"Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as the president of the United States? Do you think that is the kind of experience we need?" Santorum said Monday at one of three events in the state's more conservative rural south. "People in 10 states have figured out that despite of all the negative ads pounding and pounding away on mostly minutia in a public record that we need someone who can provide a clear contrast with this president."

On Monday, Santorum also again raised the spectre of a brokered convention on CBS' Morning Show. If no candidate has 1,144 delegate votes on the first ballot, then delegates are free in the next round to vote for whomever they'd like.

"The convention will nominate a conservative," Santorum said Monday. "They will not nominate the establishment moderate candidate from Massachusetts. When we nominate moderates, when we nominate a Tweedledum versus Tweedledee, we don't win elections."

There are 54 delegates up for grabs Tuesday in Illinois, the birthplace of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.

Obama also calls the state home, meaning whoever wins the Republican nomination, they are unlikely to win the state in the general election. Obama won it in 2008 with more than 60%.

Romney currently holds a sizeable lead in delegates over his rivals. Following his sweep in Puerto Rico, Romney has 518 delegates, Santorum has 239, Newt Gingrich has 139 and libertarian-leaning Ron Paul has just 69.

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