Romney leads in Illinois poll over Santorum

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 19, 2012 12:43 PM
Romney leads in Illinois poll over Santorum

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney may be headed for an important victory in Illinois on Tuesday that would help him put more distance between himself and Rick Santorum, his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

A new poll by Public Policy Polling said Romney leads the conservative Santorum by 45 percent to 30 percent in Illinois. Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich had 12 percent and libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, 10 percent.

Romney, who has struggled to put away Santorum, leads the former Pennsylvania senator in the race for the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican presidential nomination. He has 518 delegates to Santorum's 239, according to CNN.

A victory in Illinois, combined with his win in Puerto Rico and sweep of its 20 delegates on Saturday, would put Romney one step closer to becoming the party's candidate to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

Romney was to give an economic speech in Chicago on Monday to promote what he feels is his strength, a working knowledge of the U.S. economy as a former businessman.

The race for the Republican nomination has become an increasingly hard fought as Romney and Santorum exchange insults. Romney called Santorum an "economic lightweight" while Santorum called attention to Romney's wealth.

"I heard Governor Romney here call me an economic lightweight because I wasn't a Wall Street financier like he was," Santorum told a crowd in Rockford, Illinois. "Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as a president of United States? Do you think that is the kind of experience we need?"

The campaign returns to the South late this week as Louisiana holds its primary contest. Santorum may be poised for victory there after winning two other Southern states, Alabama and Mississippi, a week ago.

(Reporting By Steve Holland in Washington and Samuel P. Jacobs in Illinois; Editing by Bill Trott)