(CHICAGO) — Basking in the glow of his commanding win in Illinois on Tuesday night, Mitt Romney delivered his victory speech in Schaumburg, Ill., but it may be another state 40 miles north that will seal the deal for the GOP front-runner: Wisconsin.
While Romney focused his victory speech on a general election showdown with President Obama and his top strategist Eric Fehrnstrom called on other candidates to “step aside,” the Republican primary seems destined to continue at least through April 3, when Wisconsin, along with Maryland and the District of Columbia, heads to the polls. It is there that Romney will have a real chance to end what has been a long, drawn-out primary.
With a 300 delegate lead — 563 to 263 — over his closest rival, Rick Santorum, Romney, as evidenced by his speech in Schaumburg, is eager to focus his attacks on Obama rather than his fellow Republican hopefuls.
Romney’s resounding triumph in Illinois — he took 47 percent of the vote compared with 35 percent for Santorum — gives the former Massachusetts governor a compelling argument for Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to exit the race. But not one of the three has shown any inclination to do so.
Gingrich and Paul, at this point, have become irrelevant in the primary, but Santorum still holds out faint hope of making a comeback. If he is to pull that off, he has to score an unexpected victory in the very near future.
Santorum, it seems, will likely win in Louisiana on Saturday, but that will do little to change the momentum of the race. Come April 3, the former Pennsylvania senator will be hard-pressed to find a lot of support in Maryland and is not even on the ballot in D.C.
After that, the next round of primaries does not take place until April 24, when New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania all vote. Only Pennsylvania is emotely friendly territory for Santorum, but even there the voters kicked him out of the Senate after one term. It’s not exactly a great home-field advantage.
That all makes April 3 in Wisconsin the last best chance for Santorum to get back into the race. Win the Badger State and Santorum will be back in the conversation, at least until April 24. Lose, and he will merely be an afterthought going forward, a dead man walking.
Santorum will waste little time in making his case to Wisconsin voters. He heads there Saturday to address a conference in Milwaukee.
Romney is also expected to visit the state later this month, while his wife, Ann, will campaign in Madison and Milwaukee on Thursday.
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