Tomorrow, at 9:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, the polls will be closed in the Republican Primaries in the great state of Illinois. Regardless of the fact that this already has been a very long race, tomorrow’s outcome will show one of three possibilities. The first (and most likely expected) outcome would be a close race between Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum, with Mr. Romney winning the Primary by single digits. The second outcome would be Mr. Romney winning the state by double-digits, although this is less likely to happen. But it is the third outcome that would prove to be the most unexpected and in turn prolong the race to the Republican nomination: Rick Santorum winning the popular vote.
The reason the first outcome is the likeliest is because Illinois is not Oklahoma and Kansas. While it is in the Midwest, Illinois has many more affluent suburban voters who are not only more moderate than their rural counterparts, but also less religious and less partisan. Mr. Santorum’s strategy for states with this type of dynamic has been to pay more attention to the working-class parts of the state because the voters there are likelier to be in-sync with his stringent religious beliefs and steadfast dedication to all the tenets of conservatism, not just economics. While this is essentially the only strategy he has for blue and purple states, it is nonetheless glaring evidence that his appeal has geographical and regional limits. It also shows that his inability to steal Romney’s appeal from suburban voters is a sign that does not bode well for a general election.
On the other hand, a new poll was just released where Mr. Santorum is actually beating Mr. Romney in a head-to-head match-up in critical swing states. Combine that with what we’ve seen from other states like Ohio and Michigan, and it presents us with yet another reason why the first scenario is the likeliest and not the second. For the second outcome to come to fruition, Romney would have to hope that the latest CNN poll is accurate in indicating where the majority of Illinois voters are at regarding their selection for the nominee. But, as stated earlier, there have been plenty of polls taken from earlier Primaries (i.e. Maine and Colorado) where they predicted Mr. Romney would be ahead by double-digits but of course he either ended up winning by a slight margin or even losing. So it is within reason to predict that Illinois will be a close race and that Mr. Romney will win with only a slight margin. The aforementioned strategy to stay within the rural areas has worked perfectly for Mr. Santorum in states like Alabama and Mississippi, but did not work out for him in other states like Michigan and Ohio. There were simply not enough rural voters to compete with Mr. Romney’s immense strength in big cities like Detroit or Cleveland. Undoubtedly, Mr. Santorum will probably find himself in a similar situation tomorrow, as he will probably end up winning parts of central and southern Illinois, but will lose areas of population like Chicago and Springfield.
As for the third outcome, a Santorum victory is highly unlikely at this point for all the reasons stated above. But this isn’t just about the popular vote. Ordinarily, Mr. Santorum would be hoping for at least a slew of delegates so that he doesn’t come away with nothing. But, like in Virginia and Ohio, Mr. Santorum’s campaign failed once again to fill out the proper paperwork and he has now lost a chance at earning several delegates in tomorrow’s race. This is a severe impediment for his campaign, especially because allocating delegates proportionally is crucial for him to even get what could be considered a consolation prize. Time and time again, we have seen this kind of ill-preparedness from the former Senator’s campaign, as well as Mr. Gingrich’s.
Tomorrow, Mr. Romney can expect to pick up anywhere between 30 and 45 delegates, especially if he manages to win by double-digits. But, Mr. Romney should also realize that Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich will not drop out of the race on Wednesday. They will certainly continue to fight in Louisiana on Saturday, which also happens to be the same day Missouri completes its Caucus. Mr. Santorum may even remain competitive enough to be able to take this battle to the convention in Tampa, although that is unlikely barring a massive implosion in the Romney campaign. As for my own prediction, while the last two months have provided some impressive victories for Mr. Santorum, that is unlikely to follow suit in April due to the amount of states on the east coast that will inevitably favor Mr. Romney. In other words, I believe this nomination is going to be over by early May.