- Edward Morrissey says exit polls and actual vote showed Romney winning easily in Illinois
- He says despite some Santorum wins, Romney's delegate lead getting harder to beat
- He says Santorum could do well in upcoming Louisiana and will fight for a knockout blow
- Morrissey: If Gingrich drops out, Santorum could still give Romney the one-on-one fight he needs
The Republican nomination chalked up another state contest Tuesday night, and Mitt Romney met expectations with a solid win over Rick Santorum. Exit polls in this case didn't mislead the media as they did in Mississippi and Alabama last week; they showed Romney winning handily, and from the first counts that remained constant.
The GOP front-runner can now add another Midwestern state to his column, while Santorum needs to look to Saturday, and the Louisiana primary, for a chance to change the narrative.
Romney didn't get a majority, but that hardly matters at this stage. Romney will win a lopsided delegate split with Santorum, and the delegate math will continue to get more difficult for Romney's chief opponent. Despite Santorum's surprise wins in the South last week, he trails Romney by more than 2-1 in delegates, if nonbinding caucus results are counted. Without those, Santorum's delegate total drops to 165, or two less than Romney won on Super Tuesday alone three weeks ago.
Will Tuesday's results change anything in the race? Since the next contest -- the Louisiana primary, with 46 proportionally allocated delegates at stake -- takes place in just four days, expect nothing to change. Newt Gingrich gave up competing in Illinois and Puerto Rico to focus on the Southern state and an opportunity to make one more comeback in the race.
Santorum has a four-point lead in a poll conducted for a New Orleans television station last week, and can be expected to fight hard to finish March with a win. Romney will almost certainly spend significant amounts of time and money looking for a knockout blow.
After that, though, we have 10 days before the next primaries on April 3, the longest slack period in six weeks. Gingrich, whose fundraising cratered in February, may take the time to reconsider his quixotic quest. If Gingrich gets out, or even if the low fundraising totals merely sideline him, Santorum will have a chance of consolidating conservatives in the remaining states and give Romney the one-on-one fight he desperately needs.
It may be too late for Santorum to beat Romney, but it's unlikely that even a loss in Louisiana would persuade Santorum not to try.
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