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2012: Back to inevitable?

With 99% in, Romney led Santorum in Illinois 47%-35%. He got 41 of 54 delegates up for grabs so far. Santorum got 10. Total: Romney 485, Santorum 193, Gingrich 137, Paul 34. That means Romney is 42% of the way to the magic number of 1,144.

Romney won by running up the score in seven areas in or near Chicago. His margin of victory was 107,000 votes, but he got a 122,000-vote difference out of these areas -- the Cook suburbs (45,000), Dupage County (27,000), Lake County (16,000), Chicago (14,000), Will County (8,000), Kane County (7,000), McHenry County (5,000).

The Chicago Tribune called it a “decisive victory.” More: “The results provided the former Massachusetts governor with a sizable victory and also resurrected the aura of inevitability that his campaign has tried to project, only to be thwarted by close elections and even defeats in other states. Yet low voter turnout throughout Illinois raised questions about Republican enthusiasm for any of the presidential contenders….”

PAUL: He told Jay Leno that Secret Service protection is “a form of welfare.” But if he were to get Secret Service protection, he would choose the nickname “Bulldog.” “I go after the Fed and all that big spending,” he said.

ROMNEY: Illinois “was a far more substantial showing for Romney than the grudging victories he eked out in the previous few weeks in Michigan and Ohio, primaries that did as much to raise questions about his ability to attract Republican support as to quell those questions,” the AP writes.

The AP: “Mitt Romney's win in the Illinois Republican primary rested on broad leads among voters with higher incomes and more formal education, with a boost from those focused on defeating President Barack Obama in November….”

The New York Daily News: “Mitt Romney scored a big Heartland win in Illinois Tuesday, knocking back Rick Santorum and leaving himself poised to grab the GOP front-runner mantle for good.”

Fred Barnes: "Mitt Romney is close to finishing off his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, talk of a brokered GOP convention in August, and the prospect of a new candidate suddenly entering the contest." (Hat tip: Political Wire)

Bill Kristol though wasn’t impressed. "Watching Mitt Romney's victory speech in Illinois didn't reassure me about his chances against President Obama.

Another victory for Romney – FreedomWorks has dropped its opposition to him: “It is a statistical fact that the numbers favor Mitt Romney,” FreedomWorks Vice President Russ Walker told The Washington Times. “We are dedicated to defeating Obama and electing a conservative Senate that will help Romney repeal Obamacare and address the nation’s economic and spending challenges.”

SANTORUM: From Gettysburg, Santorum pointed to win in conservative areas: "If you look at what's going to happen tonight, we're going to win Downstate, we're going to win central Illinois, we're going to (win) western Illinois," he said. "We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate. We're very happy about that. We're happy about the delegates we're going to get too."

The Chicago Tribune’s editorial page: “Watching Illinois vote totals overwhelm him from a Tuesday night gathering in Gettysburg, Pa., Rick Santorum must have felt the anguish of all those Confederate ghosts. Like Gen. Robert E. Lee attacking the Union's Maj. Gen. George Meade, Santorum had a direct shot: Illinois was Santorum vs. Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul mostly bypassed the Land of Lincoln. Here Santorum could prove that, in a two-man fight in a big and diverse state, voters would rally to him. Illinois would be for him what Confederates hoped for Pickett's Charge: a shocking puncture that turns a battle's tide. In the end, Gen. Lee had to withdraw from Gettysburg; his trail of wounded Rebs famously stretched 14 miles. Santorum doesn't have to withdraw from anything. But his fight for Illinois ended in comparable defeat.”

The Boston Globe’s Rowland: “April, for Rick Santorum, may indeed be the cruelest month. … He has a good chance of beating Mitt Romney in the southern state of Louisiana on Saturday, the last primary election in March. But after that, April brings votes in seven northern states and the District of Columbia that award a combined 329 delegates. Romney is favored in most with the exception of Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania and perhaps Wisconsin. If Romney performs strongly and the delegate math increasingly favors the front-runner, Santorum will face increasing calls to stand down from his challenge by the end of the month.”

The Washington Post’s Tumulty on Santorum: “[T]the very qualities that made him a contender are turning into problems, as he is more frequently being tripped up by saying what is on his mind and by sometimes-errant tactical instincts. His candid comments and unconventional moves were badges of authenticity in the early contests, but they now raise doubts about Santorum’s capacity to be his party’s standard-bearer in the general election. And they have hampered Santorum’s ability to capi­tal­ize on opportunities to narrow the gap with Mitt Romney, particularly in large states with diverse electorates.”

The New York Daily News: “It looks like Rick Santorum may have a ‘Jeremiah Wright’ of his own. The Republican presidential candidate is coming under the microscope after he attended a Louisiana church service this week where the pastor suggested non-Christians should ‘get out’ of America.