Romney Prevails Easily in Puerto Rico G.O.P. Primary


romneyMitt Romney hailed his victory on Sunday in the Puerto Rico primary as another step in a slow march to the Republican presidential nomination, a winning streak he is aggressively working to repeat in the Illinois primary on Tuesday.

As the Republican race deepens into a fight for every delegate, the Romney campaign pointed to Puerto Rico as the latest sign of strength over Rick Santorum. Mr. Romney soundly defeated Mr. Santorum in the United States territory, which has 20 delegates, and all are likely to go to Mr. Romney.

“Those people who think Latinos won’t vote for a Republican need to talk to the people of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Romney said, speaking at an evening rally here. “I intend to get Latino voters to vote Republican and take back the White House.”

But the Republican rivals had their sights squarely set on Illinois, where 69 delegates are at stake on Tuesday. The race is far tighter here, party strategists said, and Mr. Romney scrapped a brief island respite to return to campaign across the state on Sunday.

Mr. Santorum, who spent the day making an appeal to Republicans in Louisiana in advance of its primary on Saturday, argued forcefully that he would present a sharper contrast to President Obama than Mr. Romney. He said Sunday that his path to the party’s nomination remained open, and that he intended to make his case again here on Monday when he visits the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan in Dixon, Ill.

“We’re hanging in there, we’re fighting, we’re climbing,” Mr. Santorum said in an interview on the ABC News program “This Week.” “We have got the best message, the best contrast with President Obama.”

Mr. Santorum declined to say how he intended to play the end game of the delegate fight with Mr. Romney, particularly if he blocks his rival from reaching the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

The outcome of Illinois will figure heavily in the next chapter of the race, with Mr. Romney outspending Mr. Santorum here to try to slow his momentum from a pair of Southern victories last week.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has pledged to keep his candidacy alive, took a rare break from Sunday television news programs and did not campaign here on the weekend before the primary.

Mr. Romney, who arrived Sunday evening to greet voters in the far northern suburbs of Chicago, is increasingly turning his attention to Mr. Obama. His campaign aides are waging a tenacious fight for delegates, but are trying to keep his message focused on the long-term goal of winning in the fall.

“I think the people of our party want to make sure we have a nominee that can beat Barack Obama,” Mr. Romney told “Fox News Sunday.” “I know a lot of people will talk about delegates and strategies and math and that’s all very interesting to the insiders.”

As he seeks to elevate his message, Mr. Romney is scheduled to deliver a major economic address on Monday at the University of Chicago. Yet his aides were still closely fixated on the chase for delegates.

A few minutes after television networks called the Puerto Rico contest for Mr. Romney, one of his senior campaign advisers, Eric Fehrnstrom, sent a message by Twitter: “Santorum suffers huge loss in Puerto Rico. He campaigned there and said he was known in Congress as Senator Puertorriqueno.”

{NY Times/ Newscenter}