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In fairness to Santorum, his point – that the purpose of his campaign transcended the focus on single issues like unemployment – was a reasonable one. But it also played directly into the Romney campaign’s determined efforts to brand Santorum as an “economic lightweight” who could not be trusted to preside over the country’s economic revival. Nor did it endear him in Illinois, a state that has the eighth highest unemployment rate in the country and ranks 48th in job creation. Accordingly, primary voters who named the economy as their top concern overwhelmingly backed Romney.
A victory or at least another close decision in Illinois could have helped Santorum solidify his status as a serious contender to Romney and stripped away the veneer of inevitability that the Romney campaign has been touting. Instead, Romney’s decisive margin of victory will help bolster his campaign’s assurance that, despite their previous reservations, Romney is the one that Republicans have been waiting for.
The other bad news for Santorum is that, with the exception of Saturday’s Louisiana primary, the upcoming political landscape largely favors Romney. April will see the race shift to the Northeast, where electorates resemble those of the suburbs in Illinois. A series of Romney sweeps will make it difficult for Santorum to maintain that he remains a viable candidate.
Given the fluid state of the Republican race so far, it would be premature to declare Romney the nominee. But as Santorum fades, Romney may at last be set for a spell of sustained dominance. It would surely rank as one of the sweeter ironies of this election season if Obama’s home state helped put him over the top.
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