Election 2012
3:18 pm
Mon March 19, 2012

In Illinois, Candidates Make A Final Delegate Dash

Originally published on Mon March 19, 2012 10:04 pm

It's another furious dash to the finish line as delegate-rich Illinois holds its Republican presidential primary Tuesday.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is looking to increase his delegate lead. And he's still searching for that decisive win over his main rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

While polls show Romney with a slight lead in Illinois, it's far from a sure thing. Sensing an opportunity to put some distance between himself and Santorum, Romney is doubling down in Illinois, where 54 of the state's 69 delegates are at stake.

Romney is staying in the state through Tuesday's vote and added more stops than originally planned. In campaigning Sunday and Monday, Romney focused his attack on President Obama while touting his own business acumen.

"You see if you're in business, you have no choice but to be a fiscal conservative," Romney told an overflowing crowd at a town hall meeting in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills. "If you spend more money than you take in, you go broke. You know, I learned that for 25 years, all right, so I understand how it works."

And Romney poked fun at the massive state budget deficit in the president's home state.

Obama "was a legislator in Illinois, where I understand if you don't spend more money than you take in, you don't get re-elected, right?" Romney said.

He also took swipes at both Obama and his GOP rivals, saying, "I didn't learn about the economy in a subcommittee of Congress. I learned about the economy on the streets of American business, in the free marketplace and trading around the world," before adding, "You can't replace an economy lightweight with another economy lightweight."

"We were undecided until today and I would say that after hearing Gov. Romney today, our decision has been made that, yeah, he will get our vote," said Connie Gustafson, 28, who attended a Romney rally in Rockford on Sunday with her husband, Carl.

But some Illinois Republican primary voters aren't buying Romney's message that he's better tested than the others in the real-world economy.

"I would like to put somebody in office who's had to work for a living," said Karen Mack, 45, of Wheaton. "The idea that politicians are wealthy and have lost touch with middle class and what the real issues are is disheartening."

In the rest of Illinois, beyond Chicago and its suburbs, where Republican primary voters tend to be more socially conservative, many still question Romney's conservative credentials.

in Dixon, the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, Aaron Wiles turned out to hear Santorum speak next to a statue of the 40th president.

"I'm looking for somebody who I think is the true conservative in the race and I have serious hesitations with Mitt Romney's front-runner status," said Wiles. "And I do believe that Rick [Santorum] has been the conservative from Day 1 ever since he's been in the Senate."

And that's the message Santorum himself tried to hammer home to Illinois voters.

"Let's just be brutally honest about it: There's one candidate in this race who can never make this race about freedom, because he simply abandoned freedom when he was governor of Massachusetts and he abandoned it when he promoted Obamacare in 2009," said Santorum.

Santorum has been drawing huge crowds and is hoping strong turnout downstate can offset the more moderate Chicago suburbs.

"The wheels on the Romney bike are a little wobbly now," said Matt Streb, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University. "I think if he loses Illinois, one of them probably falls off."

While Illinois is a usually a blue state in general elections, "The Republican Party is not nearly as moderate in Illinois as I think most people make it out to be," Streb said, adding that GOP primary voters have been voting more conservative in recent years. That could bode well for Santorum.

As for Romney, a decisive win in a large state such as Illinois would certainly go a long way toward helping Romney get closer to the nomination, said Streb, but it's not critical.

"We are getting to the point though, where kind of momentum becomes less important and, now, delegate count does matter," said Streb.

And that's where Santorum could come up short in Illinois. Even if he is able to win the popular vote, Santorum was unable to field full slates of delegates in every Illinois congressional district.

The Chicago Tribune explained:

"Romney, [Newt] Gingrich and [Ron] Paul fielded full slates of 54 delegates in the state's 18 congressional districts. Santorum failed to file delegates in four districts, including the new 5th District that takes in eastern DuPage County and the 13th District that features several Republican-leaning areas in central Illinois."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Another state, another furious dash to the finish for Republicans competing for the presidential nomination. Illinois holds its GOP primary tomorrow. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is looking to increase his delegate lead, and he is still searching for that decisive win over his main rival, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

NPR's David Schaper has been talking with voters in Illinois.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: We can talk politics in a minute first, how about this weather?

TIM HERR: Oh, it's fantastic, isn't it? It's what, 78 degrees here in the middle of March? It's incredible.

SCHAPER: Forty-four-year old Tim Herr is out for a bike ride with his wife and eight-year-old son in suburban Wheaton, Illinois. And while he's enjoying summer-like heat, Herr is lukewarm about the Republican presidential candidates, saying he's still undecided.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm leaning a little bit more towards Romney at the moment simply because of his business background. I think that would be something we definitely need in a leader more than the social issues at this point.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SCHAPER: Sensing an opportunity on economic issues to put some distance between himself and challenger Rick Santorum, Romney is doubling down in Illinois. He's staying in the state through tomorrow's vote and added more stops. Romney is focusing his attack, though, on President Obama, while touting his own business acumen.

ROMNEY: If you spend more money than you take in, you go broke. So, you know, I learned that for 25 years, so I understand how it works.

SCHAPER: And Romney poked fun at the massive state budget deficit in the president's home state.

ROMNEY: He was a legislator in Illinois where, I understand, if you don't spend more money than you take in, you don't get reelected. Right?

SCHAPER: Romney takes subtle swipes at his GOP rivals, too, slamming them as economic lightweights. His message resonates with 28-year-old Connie Gustafson and her husband Carl.

CONNIE GUSTAFSON: We were undecided until today and I would say that, after hearing Governor Romney today, our decision has been made that – yeah, he will get our vote.

SCHAPER: But some Illinois primary voters aren't buying Romney's message that he's better tested than the others in the real world economy. Forty-five-year-old Karen Mack of Wheaton is turned off by Romney's wealth.

KAREN MACK: I would like to put somebody in office who had to work for a living. The idea that politicians are wealthy and have lost touch with middle class and what the real issues are is disheartening.

SCHAPER: And in the rest of Illinois, beyond Chicago and its suburbs, Republican primary voters tend to be more socially conservative and many still question Romney's conservative credentials.

In Dixon, Illinois, the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, Aaron Wiles turned out to hear Rick Santorum speak next to the town's Ronald Reagan statue.

AARON WILES: I'm looking for somebody who I think is the true conservative in the race and I have serious hesitations with Mitt Romney's frontrunner status. And I do believe that Rick has been a conservative from day one, ever since he's been in the senate in Pennsylvania, so...

SCHAPER: And that's the message Santorum himself is trying to hammer home to Illinois voters.

RICK SANTORUM: There's one candidate in this race who can never make this race about freedom because he simply abandoned freedom when he was governor of Massachusetts and he abandoned it when he promoted ObamaCare in 2009.

SCHAPER: Santorum has been drawing huge crowds at events like this one in Illinois and he's hoping strong turnout downstate can offset the more moderate Chicago suburbs.

MATT STREB: The wheels on the Romney bike are a little wobbly now. I think, if he loses Illinois, one of them probably falls off.

SCHAPER: Matt Streb, political scientist at Northern Illinois University says, while Illinois is usually a blue state in general elections, Republican primary voters have been trending more conservative in recent years. He says a decisive win in Illinois would certainly go a long way to helping Romney get closer to the nomination.

STREB: We are getting to the point, though, where kind of momentum becomes less important and now delegate count does matter.

SCHAPER: And that's where Santorum could come up short in Illinois. Even if he is able to win the popular vote, Santorum was unable to field full slates of delegates in every Illinois congressional district.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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