Another GOP primary and another big test for Mitt Romney.
Romney, the GOP presidential front-runner with 521 delegates, could score a big victory in this Midwest state, where 69 delegates are up for grabs. A new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling gives Romney a 15-point lead over his main rival Rick Santorum in Illinois, and a 33-point edge over Newt Gingrich. Just one week ago national polls showed Romney with a razor thin advantage over Santorum.
David Chalian, Yahoo!'s Washington bureau chief, says Illinois is "friendly territory" for Romney and if the former Massachusetts governor doesn't win, "this is going to be a huge problem for him."
As Chalian points out in the accompanying video, Santorum already has a 10-point delegate disadvantage in today's GOP primary. Santorum's campaign was not able to file full delegate slates in every Illinois voting district. Santorum's problems in Illinois wouldn't have changed his circumstances, Chalian says. Romney's strength in this nominating contest has been the "moderate, suburban electorate," which Chalian says accurately describes the Illinois Republican primary electorate.
Romney may have the delegate count, campaign money (his campaign recently announced it raised $11.5 million in February, bringing its total to $75 million) and organization, but getting the Republican base to rally behind him has been Romney's biggest challenge in this prolonged nominating contest. Overtaking Romney in the delegate count will be very hard for Santorum and Gingrich, but both are determined to prevent Romney from accumulating the required 1,144 delegates needed to seal up the nomination before the party's August convention in Tampa, Fla.
Santorum has seen his popularity with Republican voters surge in recent weeks, yet Chalian says he believes the pendulum has swung back to Romney's side.
"He is methodically moving through this nomination process," Chalian says. If Romney wins Illinois, "it makes him one step closer to the nomination" but it "won't force his competitors out of the race."