Republican Romney leads in Illinois poll over Santorum
CHICAGO (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.
Romney leads the conservative Santorum by 45 percent to 30 percent in Illinois, in a poll by Public Policy Polling. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich had 12 percent and libertarian congressman Ron Paul, 10 percent.
An American Research Group survey found a similar result, with Romney leading Santorum 44 percent to 30 percent. Among those who had already voted early or by absentee ballot, Romney led 51 percent to 36 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 Republican Party's candidate to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
Romney gave a speech on economic issues in Chicago on Monday to promote what he feels is his strength, a working knowledge of the economy as a former businessman.
In it, he denounced what he called Obama's "assault on economic freedom" and touted his own resume.
"I am running for president because I have the experience and the vision to get us out of this mess," he said. "I am offering a real choice and a new beginning. And I have a conservative economic plan that will deliver more jobs, less debt and smaller government."
The race for the Republican nomination has become an increasingly hard fought as Romney and Santorum exchange insults. Romney's campaign 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.
Protesters respond to calls to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention. Slideshow