It wasn’t particularly surprising, but Mitt Romney’s beatdown of Rick Santorum in Illinois was the most thoroughgoing win for the front-runner since Florida. He won by a double-digit margin in the popular vote, and won at least 43 of the 54 delegates at stake last night. According to the exit polls, he won in nearly every demographic category other than evangelicals (where he did better than usual);”very conservative” voters, and rural voters. He even won those who “strongly support” the Tea Party; non-college educated voters; and those earning under $50k.
CNN now shows Romney as having more than a 300 delegate lead over Santorum, with 562 of 997 delegates awarded so far.
I have an insta-analysis column up at TNR published late last night that runs through the calender and math and suggests that yes, the contest is finally over barring very strange events. To put it simply, April should be gangbusters for Romney, and might well put it so far out of reach that Santorum gives up or donors give up on him. If he survives, though, Santorum could have a false spring in May, when primaries are dominated by the South. The final hammer comes down in June when winner-take-all New Jersey and Utah, plus winner-take-all-by-congressional-district California, are almost certain to go massively for Mitt.
We’ll know more today about what Santorum, Gingrich and Paul have to say, not to mention other analysts and GOP opinion-leaders. Stay tuned.