Analysis: Santorum missed chance in Illinois primary
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Like another insurgent army in the decisive battle of the Civil War outside town nearly 149 years ago, Rick Santorum did not break through the lines Tuesday, losing the Illinois Republican primary to Mitt Romney.
It is too soon, of course, to say how pivotal Illinois will be in deciding the fight for the 2012 GOP nomination, but Santorum clearly missed a needed chance to prove he could win in a state that was not tailor-made for him — northern and industrial, dominated by moderate suburban and secular voters rather than rural evangelical ones.
"We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate," the former Pennsylvania senator told several hundred cheering supporters in the ballroom of the historic Gettysburg Hotel about the results in Illinois, where he won large swaths of territory outside the Chicago metropolitan area. "We're happy about that. We're happy about the delegates we're going to get, too."
Romney was poised to capture a majority of the 54 delegates at stake in Illinois. Because Santorum failed to meet all the ballot requirements in four of the state's 19 congressional districts, he was eligible only to win 44 delegates; his aides thought he was on track to get about half of them.
Santorum also said he was kicking off his campaign toward the April 24 primary in Pennsylvania, which he represented in Congress for 16 years — and which now looks more important than ever as Romney widens his lead in delegates.
Perhaps it was appropriate that the lectern at Santorum's election-watch party at the Gettysburg was draped in black felt, like a funeral catafalque, considering the returns from Illinois. But the candidate's mood was upbeat as he addressed supporters beneath a "Braveheart-themed banner that read, simply, "Freedom."
Hundreds thronged the square outside the hotel, both cheering and protesting Santorum. He planned to head today to Louisiana, campaigning ahead of that state's primary Saturday.
Santorum's campaign chose Gettysburg because it wanted to make an association with Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed a "new birth of freedom" in his famous speech in November 1863 dedicating the cemetery for those fallen in the Battle of Gettysburg.
"We need somebody who's going to pull up government by the roots and throw it out and liberate the private sector," Santorum told supporters. He said that unlike Romney, a former Wall Street banker, he does not have experience in high finance.
But he did grow up in a steel-producing valley in western Pennsylvania.
"I learned everything about freedom and opportunity and hard work growing up with folks who worked in the mills and mines," Santorum said.
Santorum has cast his ragtag campaign as a band of freedom fighters standing up for limited government. His chief argument: that Romney, whose Massachusetts health care program served as a model for the national law pushed through by President Barack Obama, would offer a poor contrast for conservative principles in the Nov. 6 election.