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The 2012 Illinois GOP Primary

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on March 20, 2012

Voting is currently underway here in Illinois for primary election day 2012. While Democrats are voting to select candidates for various local and state offices, national attention is focusing on the Republican voters who are having their say in the tightly-contested race to select a presidential candidate to challenge President Obama in November’s general election.

The once-crowded GOP presidential field has narrowed to the “Final Four”– Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. In keeping with my previous assessment of those candidates, I am somewhat dismayed by their lack of electoral prowess. In particular, these Final Four candidates compare quite unfavorably to the Republican Final Four from four years ago. In 2008, the Final Four were Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Ron Paul. While Romney and Paul are essentially offering the same set of leadership qualities and issue positions as they did four years ago, Santorum is a poor imitation of the charismatic Huckabee as the religiously-inspired social conservative in the race, and Gingrich can’t measure up to McCain’s record of military and government service even as he tries to fill the same role of a maverick, shoot-from-the-hip, idea- and principle-driven candidate.

With the presidential primary race almost half-over, Ron Paul has yet to win a single state, and Newt Gingrich has only won two (South Carolina and his native Georgia). In contrast, the front-runner Mitt Romney has prevailed in fifteen states and four US territories. To the extent that anyone could theoretically beat Romney, only Rick Santorum even has a shot. Santorum has won primaries or caucuses in ten states. However, the conventional wisdom holds that Santorum can’t possibly win enough of the remaining states to actually win the GOP nomination. Santorum and Gingrich hope that by earning enough delegates in primaries and caucuses they can prevent Romney from winning the 1144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination outright. Presumably Santorum and Gingrich think that one of them would then be chosen at what is known as a “brokered convention“, where backroom deal-making and not a simple vote of the delegates determines the party’s presidential nominee. There has not been a true brokered convention since 1932, and no GOP primary race has been indecisive (as Santorum and Gingrich hope this one will be) since 1976.

There are fifty-four GOP delegates at stake in today’s Illinois primary election, but they are not awarded on the basis of the statewide popular vote. Instead, each US Congressional District directly elects GOP delegates loyal to one of the candidates. Due to organizational missteps, the Santorum campaign was unable to file slates of delegates in four Congressional Districts, depriving them of the ability to earn ten of the fifty-four delegates.

Polls suggest that Romney will win big in the “Chicagoland area”, the region consisting of Cook County, which contains the city of Chicago, as well as the “collar counties” that surround Cook County. However, Santorum could easily pick up delegates “downstate”, in the central and southern regions of Illinois that are often politically opposed to Chicagoland interests and that bear more socioeconomic similarity to neighboring states of Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky than to northern Illinois.

The Illinois GOP primary looks like it will be a close race, with many delegates at stake (the most since the January 31 Florida primary) and some significance to the national primary race. Check the cable news channel of your choice for updates on the Illinois results throughout the evening.

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