Mitt Romney stomped to victory in Illinois last night. It was a decisive win, his broadest in a contested mainland state since Nevada.
He won among women voters, independent voters, and voters whose top issue was the economy, according to exit polls. Significantly, he beat Rick Santorum among Tea Partiers and Catholic voters as well.
Some of his competitors (I’m looking at you, Newt) griped that Romney had outspent his rivals on TV ads in the state by an astounding 29 to 1.
“I have never seen anything like it. … I hate when people say that, but I really have never seen anything like it in a competitive election,” Ken Goldstein, president of CMAG (Campaign Media Analysis Group) and founding director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, told CNN. But there is no crying in baseball, or presidential politics.
Despite Mitt’s Illinois margin of victory, the stubborn divisions within the GOP field will continue. Sift through the exit polls and you’ll see that Santorum again won evangelicals, the “very conservative,” voters making under $30,000 and the non–college educated. Rick cleaned up in the rural parts of the state, while Romney again showed his greatest strength in suburban and urban areas. Santorum decisively won voters looking for the “true conservative” and “strong moral character,” while Romney won with those looking for “the right experience” and who “can beat Obama.”
The bottom line is that while Romney showed signs of modestly expanding his vote, he did not erase his credibility gap with the conservative populist base. Illinois is a big win, but not a game changer.
There is no assurance that the next battleground states in the race—Louisiana and Wisconsin on April 3—will be more friendly to Mitt because of this decisive win. Baseball clichés again apply: momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher, or primary performance. The delegate race will slog on, until Mitt can clinch 1,144—a goal that is still months away.