With 95% of precincts reporting Mitt Romney is cruising to an easy 47%-35% victory over Rick Santorum.  Even better for Romney he is winning multiple delegate races in Congressional districts that he won the beauty contest popular vote for.  Exit polls conducted tell the tale of how Romney won in Illinois.

The exit polls find that both Romney and Santorum once again relied deeply on their bases of support.  But just as in OH and MI Romney did better than usual among the groups that Santorum relies on the most.  In Illinois the exceptions were that Romney actually did better among men then women and won a plurality of those who support the Tea Party.  Romney ran strongest among senior voters and the 84% of the electorate that had some college or a college degree. Romney racked up huge margins among those who earned over $100 and actually won those that made $30-100 thousand.

Santorum’s strength was unsurprisingly among evangelicals, those earning under $30 thousand, those without a college degree and very conservative voters.  Yet he managed to barely rack up double-digit wins among these groups, ensuring his night would be a long one.

Romney easily won Republicans 51%-36%.  And perhaps more telling of his general election strength he won independents 44%-28%.  Ideologically Romney won moderates/liberals 48%-27%.  Santorum won very conservative voters 48%-37%.  What put Romney over the top was his massive 55%-31% win among the large group that identified as “somewhat conservative”.  Not surprisingly. Santorum won Protestants and Romney won Catholics.  And predictably, those that valued defeating Obama and experience overwhelmingly backed Romney while those who valued being a true conservative or strong moral character backed Santorum.

Turnout in the race was low.  But the bragging rights without a doubt go to Romney.  Romney won a solid majority of the delegates tonight and utterly crushed Santorum among the groups he needs to win to garner credence to the idea he can beat Obama in November.  Regionally Romney won the Collar Counties and every major metro area whereas Santorum won most downstate counties.  But just as among individual voting groups, Santorum did not rack up huge margins in the downstate counties.

For Santorum yet another loss in a Midwestern state and his lack of organization and outreach to moderate voters has to be a blow.  Santorum’s campaign now has to weigh whether it can continue.  They have some money but not enough to compete with Romney.  Romney’s support is essentially solid and not going anywhere.  Meanwhile. with Gingrich vowing to stay in the race the South which favors Santorum may give him popular vote victories but it will not give him many more delegates than Romney gets (his support is not split).

Romney’s team has to be happy about tonight’s results.  The massive amount of money they spent paid off as turnout was heavy in the Collar Counties compared to downstate.  Another feather in the Romney campaign’s cap has to be that they ran well among Santorum”s core groups and can limit their loss in LA on Saturday.  If they can carry this momentum into April and win a state like WI, which votes on April 3 with DC and Maryland, then the pressure for Santorum to drop out would become very, very public and not just internal as Romney racks up more and more delegates.  He won 42 of the delegates Illinois had to give while Santorum a mere 10.

For Gingrich and Paul there is little to say.  They had little impact in the race and did not compete heavily in the state.  Both have no shot in the nomination contest and they know so.  But Paul is nurturing a movement he hopes can take over the GOP someday.  Gingrich has a forlorn hope of winning Southern states but it seems he is staying in the race just to spite Santorum and inadvertently helping the man he loathes, Mitt Romney.

Notable Mention: In the hotly contested GOP primary contest in the 16th CD freshman Rep. Adam Kizinger defeated 10 term Rep. Don Manzullo.  The primary was seen not just as generational but also increasingly bitter between to different brands of conservatism.  Manzullo, despite his tenure in Congress was seen as the Tea Party candidate, notably for endorsements from groups like Freedomworks and the Illinois Tea Party.  Kizinger received notable endorsements from Majority Leader Eric Cantor and received outside help from public accountability PAC “The Campaign for Primary Accountability.”  Kizinger’s win ensures he will return to Congress next year (barring a major scandal).

Update: Since last night Romney has surged from a 4 point lead in Galup’s daily tracking poll to 10 points over Santorum.  He also has seen a new influx of cash from donors and even more importantly just received the notable endorsement of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  Several commentators and writers from both left and right leaning blogs and papers are now calling the race over in all but a concession speech from Santorum, Gingrich and Paul.


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