Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he
trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean
island's delegates. Romney has collected more delegates than his
opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in
Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by
Santorum's shoestring operation.
Romney's wife, Ann, declared
Sunday night in suburban Illinois that the time has come for her
husband's rivals to quit the race.
"We need to send a message that it's time to coalesce," she said,
Mitt at her side. "It's time to get behind one candidate and get the
job done so we can move on to the next challenge, bringing us one
step closer to defeating Barack Obama."
Brushing aside skepticism from the party's right flank, Romney
aides have been emphasizing their overwhelming mathematical
advantage in the race to 1,144 delegates -- the number needed to
clinch the GOP presidential nomination and face President Barack
Obama in the fall.
Santorum has all but conceded he cannot earn enough delegates to
win, but claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney
is a weak front-runner.
"This is a primary process where somebody had a huge advantage,
huge money advantage, huge advantage of establishment support, and
he hasn't been able to close the deal and even come close to closing
the deal," Santorum said Sunday. "That tells you that there's a real
Yet, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight Romney on
the convention floor if he failed before August to stop the former
Massachusetts governor from getting the required number of
Romney aides privately likened the situation to the Black Knight
in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who loses his arms and legs in
battle with King Arthur but insists he has only a flesh wound. The
Romney camp suggested that Tuesday's performance would extend
Romney's delegate advantage, even if he loses the popular vote.
Santorum cannot win at least 10 of the state's 54 delegates
because his campaign failed to file the paperwork.
One Romney aide recently said it would take "an act of God" for
Santorum to earn enough delegates to prevail.
[to top of second column]
"Mitt's going to do well," said Romney's Illinois chairman Dan
Rutherford, the state treasurer. "I think he will do better than the
other three people. ... But my focus is on the delegates because
that's really what the game is all about."
Polls suggest the Illinois race is close. And even at a Romney
campaign stop Sunday, voters were divided.
"I'm leaning toward Santorum, but I wanted to hear him in
person," said Nichole Warren, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from
nearby South Beloit. "I hear (Romney) talk and I hear a lot of Obama
in him, and that scares me."
But Sid Haffenden, a 61-year-old retired tollway worker, said,
"Santorum has too much baggage." He added, "I want a businessman."
Santorum is not giving up. He will spend Monday and Tuesday
courting Illinois voters. He plans to host four rallies Monday.
While offering a confident front, Romney cut short campaign plans
in Puerto Rico over the weekend to spend more time in Illinois. He
arrived Saturday night and plans to stay in the state through
At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June
unless Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is able to win
decisively in the coming contests.
Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the
nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney
doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would
turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time
Including Puerto Rico's results, Romney has now collected 521
delegates, compared with Santorum's 253, Gingrich's 136 and Paul's
50, according to the count by The Associated Press.
By STEVE PEOPLES]
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