Romney Pulls Ahead in Illinois, Santorum

The Associated Press

ROCKFORD, Ill.—Rick Santorum is doing a one-day campaign and media blitz Monday in Illinois, but he plans to high-tail it out of the state before Tuesday’s primary night, which could be a positive sign for chief rival Mitt Romney.

The former Pennsylvania senator will appear on 15 radio and television programs Monday, with four rallies planned throughout the state. On Tuesday, instead of visiting polling precincts and hosting a party in the state, he will retreat to friendlier territory in Gettysburg, Pa. Santorum spent much of the weekend rallying support in Louisiana, where his future looks brighter than in Illinois, and he hopped down to Puerto Rico last week (though he ended up being trounced in the primary on the island Sunday). Louisiana holds its primary on Saturday.

Illinois appeared to be a close race just a few weeks ago, but Romney has pulled far ahead in recent polling. A Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday showed the former Massachusetts governor ahead of Santorum by 15 percentage points.

“Mitt Romney is headed for a blowout victory in Illinois on Tuesday,” said PPP Director Tom Jensen.

But Santorum has consistently out-performed polls: He won Alabama and Mississippi last week, despite polls suggesting otherwise. He also decided not to hold his primary-night rally in either state, so his strategy of looking ahead to future contests while voters hit the polls could be a winning one.

Romney, on the other hand, is focusing intensely on Illinois. He spent the weekend campaigning in the state with his wife, Ann, and they made it clear that they are looking to Illinois to solidify the perception that Romney will be the Republican nominee.

“We need to send a message,” Ann Romney told a crowd in Chicago’s northern suburbs Sunday night, “that it’s time to coalesce, it’s time to come together, it’s time for us to get behind one candidate and get the job done so we can move on to the next round, which will get us one step closer to defeating Barack Obama.”

A solid victory in Illinois would certainly help push that narrative, but a narrow one—or a loss—would be a major setback for the campaign as Romney battles to lock down the nomination through what has become a long, difficult march to the convention.