Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Mitt Romney comfortably won the Illinois Republican primary on Tuesday, a victory expected to bolster the front-runner's existing delegate lead and further cement his status as the GOP's likely nominee.
Still, the results appear unlikely to convince his rivals to step down and clear the way for Romney to coast to the Republican National Convention this summer.
Fox News called Illinois for Romney shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET, roughly a half hour after the polls closed in the Prairie State. The other networks quickly followed suit minutes later.
With nearly 98 percent of the precincts reporting later in the night, Romney had captured 46.8 percent of the vote, easily besting Rick Santorum's 35.0 percent. Ron Paul led Newt Gingrich for third place, 9.3 percent to 7.9 percent, as the final votes were being tallied.
Romney entered Tuesday's contest as the heavy favorite. In one pre-primary survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, the former Massachusetts governor had a 15-point lead on Santorum, his closest rival. Still, Santorum supporters have routinely surprised pollsters this campaign season by delivering more votes for the social conservative than surveys had suggested they would, a trend that created at least a sliver of suspense ahead of the Illinois contest.
Tuesday's final tally will determine the winner of 54 of the state's 69 delegates. While we'll have to wait for the release of the district breakdowns, Romney appears certain to win the most delegates given his comfortable statewide lead. Adding to Santorum's woes is the fact that an organizational failure by his camp left him ineligible to compete for ten of the delegates at stake, the Los Angeles Times reports.
By the AP's count, Romney entered the night with 522 delegates, more than twice Santorum's total of 253—although Santorum's camp disputes those figures, which are based partly on estimates. Gingrich and Paul were in third and fourth, respectively, with 135 and 50 delegates apiece.
Perhaps more important for Romney than adding to his delegate total was the chance to post a convincing win in a region where Santorum has been able to keep things close, despite Romney's significant infrastructure and financial advantages. Santorum opened the nominating season with a photo-finish victory in Iowa, and later posted strong second-place finishes in Ohio and Michigan.
As it has been in a number of previous nominating contests, Romney's financial advantage was on full display in the lead-up to Tuesday's primary. He and the super PAC backing his campaign outspent Santorum and his backers by a seven-to-one margin on the way to winning Illinois.
Santorum and Gingrich have both suggested they are prepared to continue to campaign all the way to Tampa, where they hope they'll be able to derail Romney's nomination on the convention floor if they cannot stop him before then on the campaign trail. Tuesday's results appear unlikely to significantly change that dynamic.
Next up for the GOP field: Louisiana, which holds its nominating contest on Saturday. Santorum earned surprise wins in Mississippi and Alabama last week and previously won Tennessee. Given his Deep South hot streak, he appears to stand a solid chance at posting a rebound win in the Pelican State in four days time. One recent state poll suggests he has a double-digit lead there.