- Romney focuses Illinois victory speech on President Obama, not GOP opponents
- Gergen: 'What we may be seeing now is the beginning of the end'
- Romney made inroads into groups who have resisted him in earlier contests
Mitt Romney regained his aura of the inevitable Republican presidential nominee on Tuesday with a solid win in Illinois' primary.
"One has a sense, that perhaps this is the final time that we'll look back and say this was the big turning point after a lot of twists and turns," CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen said. "I think what we may be seeing now is the beginning of the end. Not the end."
In declaring victory Tuesday in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Romney made scant mention of his Republican opponents and again turned his attention solely on President Barack Obama, who he would face in the general election.
"After years of too many apologies and not enough jobs, historic drops in income and historic highs in gas prices, a president who doesn't hesitate to use all the means necessary to force through Obamacare on the American public but leads from behind in the world. It's time to say these words. This word: Enough. We've had enough," Romney told supporters.
Romney entered the race as the presumptive front-runner and has faced challenges from all of the self-proclaimed more-conservative candidates in the race. His march to the nomination has suffered significant setbacks in this most volatile of Republican campaigns, but Tuesday's win was a major step forward.
Romney padded his commanding lead in the race for delegates, winning at least 41 of the 54 contested delegates in Illinois, according to CNN estimates.
"(Romney) had the cloak of inevitability early on. It got ripped off, put it back on, got ripped off and now it's back on again," Gergen said.
Romney won the same voters that he's been successful with in the past -- affluent, higher-income voters. But despite reservations from conservatives, Romney also made some progress among those groups in Illinois.
While Santorum won voters who consider themselves very conservative, Romney out-polled Romney in the conservative group overall, 46% to 40%, according to exit polls. Plus, he won by a wider margin among those who say they support the tea party movement, 45% to 37%.
Conservative voters in Illinois are different from those in the South, where Romney still hasn't broken through. Romney's appeal to conservatives will be challenged in Louisiana's primary on Saturday, where Santorum is favored.
Looking past Louisiana into April, Romney will begin campaigning in Maryland on Wednesday and the Romney-supporting super PAC, Restore Our Future, has already bought $456,862 worth of broadcast and cable time there and also purchased $47,395 of additional time in Wisconsin. Those two states and the District of Columbia hold primaries on April 3.
Restore Our Future spent almost $4 million on broadcast and cable ads in Illinois, according to the latest media buy information. Romney outspent Rick Santorum 7 to 1 in Illinois and 21 to 1 in the Chicago area.
Both Santorum and Newt Gingrich alluded to the crushing amounts of money Romney and his supporters poured into Illinois, but Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, "Fundraising is part of a campaign. So is organization. That's like a basketball team complaining that they lost to another team because their players were too tall. It's just ridiculous."