The Mitt Romney advertising juggernaut seems poised to deliver yet another victory for the GOP presidential front-runner Tuesday, as recent polling shows a once buoyant Rick Santorum underwater in Illinois.
The former Massachusetts governor leads Santorum by 15 points, according to a survey released by Public Policy Polling, widening the narrow advantage he held in polling by other firms earlier in March.
"Romney is very well organized here in Illinois and between that and the amount of money he's done in ad buys, I think that's certainly responsible for some of the movement in the polls," says Jonathan Blessing, executive director of the Illinois Republican Party.
Blessing says that because the state typically isn't important to the nominating process, the amount of advertising seen this cycle has been overwhelming.
"The Republicans I've talked to and the feedback we're getting here, is that, yes, people are very excited because it's been so long since we've had a presidential primary where our votes matter for who's going to be the nominee," he says.
Larry Stuelpnagel, a political science professor at Northwestern University, says Romney's more moderate brand of Republicanism, compared to his current GOP rivals, plays well in the state.
"Illinois voters generally like their Republican candidates moderate. Mark Kirk was the last senator elected from here and he is a mostly moderate Republican," he says. "The closer you get to Chicago, I think the more moderate you're going to find the suburbs, although when you go to the more southern part of the state, then I think you're getting more into the Rick Santorum country."
Romney also continues to benefit from the planning, organization and fundraising advantages as the prolonged nomination battle plods on.
Once again, Santorum's lack of resources and support early in his campaign has limited the number of delegates he can add to his tally. Thanks to Illinois quirky Republican primary, while Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are both eligible for 54 delegates on Tuesday, Santorum can only compete for 44. Santorum also faced reduced opportunities to score delegates in Ohio and failed entirely to get his name on the Virginia ballot.
During Tuesday's contest, voters will have the chance to vote for the Republican presidential nominee of their choice, but in order for the candidate to "get credit" in the delegate battle, the voter will also have to vote for their designated delegates. Those names vary from congressional district to congressional district, though the presidential nominee who they represent will be listed in parenthesis alongside.
"You vote for who you want for president and in each congressional district – and we have 19 – there are different delegates, no less than two and no more than four, depending on the population," Blessing says. "So after you vote for your preferred presidential candidate, you then vote for your preferred delegates."
Typically voters support the delegates that support their presidential candidate, Blessing says.
In addition to the 54 delegates awarded by congressional district, another 15 will be awarded during the state convention later in the year, he adds.
A strong showing for Romney Tuesday, who leads his rivals in the race for delegates, will once again reassert his front-runner status. After coming in third in a pair of Southern contests last week, Romney has regained his mojo by throttling the competition in Puerto Rico and focusing on his top issue – the economy.
In a speech Monday on 'economic freedom' at the University of Chicago, he cracked that he couldn't see how young voters could support Democrats.
"I apologize for being so offensive," he said, before explaining that young people should be concerned with how they will cope with the consequences of increasing government spending on programs like Medicare and Social Security, which he blamed on Democrats.
"That party is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation and amounting trillion dollar annual deficits that my generation will never pay for," he said.
Both Santorum and Romney campaigned heavily in Illinois ahead of the primary contest.
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