U.S Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is introduced by his wife Ann at his Illinois primary night rally in Schaumburg, Illinois, March 20, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Jim Young
CHICAGO, Ill. -- Mitt Romney breezed to victory in the Windy City and the Prairie State Tuesday.
The GOP front-runner is now hoping his convincing win here -- in President Barack Obama's home state -- will add credibility to his claim that he is the only Republican candidate who can win the party's nomination and take on Obama in November's election.
With 95% of polls reporting at 11:00 p.m. ET, Romney had 47% support, while his main rival Rick Santorum had 35%.
Romney called the win "extraordinary" and said the November election will be "about principle."
"Our economic freedom will be on the ballot. I"m offering a real choice and a new beginning," he said.
Romney's strength came from Chicago and its wealthy suburbs, while the socially conservative Santorum did better in the state's more rural areas.
In a pre-primary exchange of barbs, Romney repeatedly blasted Santorum as an "economic lightweight" who was no different than President Obama when it comes to experience in the real world.
Santorum shot back, calling Romney a "Wall Street financier" who was promising big government solutions to job creation.
"What kind of conservative says, 'I'm the guy, because of my economic experience, that can create jobs'? I don't know. We conservatives generally think government doesn't create jobs," Santorum said.
Santorum was in his home state of Pennsylvania Tuesday night, where the former senator got into some trouble ahead of Tuesday's contest when he said the economy was not his main concern in the election, and that the country's unemployment rate "doesn't matter" to him.
He later retreated, saying he does care about the economy and he does want the unemployment figure to drop.
Ultimately, he asked reporters for a mulligan.
"When you got out there and you don't talk from a teleprompter, and you're not, you know, reading notes that someone else gave you, occasionally you say some things you wish you had a, you know, a do-over," he said.
There were 54 delegates up for grabs in Illinois.
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 Ron Paul has just 69.
Gingrich and Paul, who both made brief appearances here last week, did not compete in the state.