Romney took the podium at 9:20 p.m. to chants of "Mitt!" "What a night," he said. "Thank you, Illinois. Wow," perhaps himself surprised at his resounding victory. He took direct aim at Barack Obama, whom he called Professor Obama and mocked for teaching Constitutional law at University of Chicago (apparently understanding the Constitution is a bad thing?). "So tonight was a primary," Romney said, "but November is a general election."
Rick Santorum spoke from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at 9:45 p.m. and declared: "This is the most important election since the election of 1860." Santorum stood behind a banner spelling out "Freedom" acknowledged that Romney was now name-dropping freedom in his stump speech. "Freedom is at stake in this election," he said.
With 99 percent reporting, Romney led Santorum by a margin of 46 percent to 35 percent.
Romney, who faltered last week with third-place finishes in the Deep South, picked up 54 of the state's 69 delegates with tonight's win.
Republicans in Chicago were not quite fired up and ready to go today. Election officials in the Windy City predicted that today will be the lowest turnout in the city's presidential primary history. Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said he was crossing his fingers for a 20 percent turnout. On the POLITICO live-stream, Maggie Haberman relayed a quote from a reluctant Romney supporter in Illinois, who likened Mitt to medicine: "We know he's good for us, but we don't really want to take it."
The demographics of this primary are not just for Nate Silver fangirls. Voting was largely split between Romney support in Chicago and its five surrounding "collar counties" and support for Santorum in the rest of the state, particularly in the south. Santorum couldn't rake in big numbers among tea-party voters; even though a third of Illinois Republicans voting today called themselves strong supporters of the tea party. Ninety-eight percent of the primary voters today were white.
Santorum has spent much of the week pandering to the kindly folks of the heartland and sneering at city slickers. At a campaign stop in Missouri last weekend, Santorum told the crowd:
"I kept saying, you just stick with us, you go out and vote for your values and trust what you know. Because you don't live in New York City. You don't live in Los Angeles. You live like most Americans in between those two cities, and you know the values you believe in."
Republican Illinoisans — from Chicago or Downstate — had the rare opportunity today to cast a primary vote that actually mattered. Obama's adoptive home state usually swings blue in presidential elections and in less exceptionally crazy GOP contests, the Republican candidate is usually chosen by the time the Illinois primary comes around. Ann Shea, 64, told the New York Times: "It feels rather strange. I'm used to being ignored. It usually feels like the candidate has already been chosen and we're just superfluous."
Not so, Ann! It's been another whirlwind week on the trail for the GOP presidential hopefuls. Today, Romney bizarrely congratulated a Google employee on the size of their lava lamp. Santorum declared he doesn't care about the unemployment rate but still managed to raise $9 million during February, according to FEC reports released tonight. Mitt Romney also completed a human-action and did his laundry today.
Onward to Louisiana!