Mitt Romney’s resounding win in the Illinois primary Tuesday demonstrated his solidifying hold on the GOP’s upscale managerial wing, and deepened the question of whether rival Rick Santorum can appeal to a broad enough segment of Republican voters to truly challenge the front-runner’s lead for the nomination.
Still, by reaffirming the basic patterns of demographic and ideological support for the two men, the Illinois result is unlikely to significantly dent the expectation that the Republican race could careen all the way to June.
Romney’s Illinois romp, following his narrow victories in Michigan and Ohio, completed a three-state sweep over Santorum in critical Midwestern showdowns. The former Pennsylvania senator’s failure to overtake Romney in any of these hard-fought contests underscored his inability to win states beyond those where evangelical Christians, his most reliable supporters, comprise about half of the vote or more.
Unless Santorum can change that pattern, he can frustrate Romney, and regularly trip him up with embarrassing defeats, but he has little chance of overtaking him for the nomination. Conversely, though, until Romney proves that he can win consistently in states with large numbers of evangelicals, the former Massachusetts governor is unlikely to force Santorum from the field.