SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Mitt Romney scored an overwhelming win Sunday in Puerto Rico’s Republican presidential primary, trouncing chief rival Rick Santorum on the Caribbean island even as the two rivals looked ahead to more competitive contests this week in Illinois and Louisiana.
Romney’s wife, Ann, urged Republicans to unite behind her husband. “It’s time to come together,” she said at a rally in suburban Chicago. “It’s time to get behind one candidate and get the job done so we can move on to the next challenge, bringing us one step closer to defeating Barack Obama.”
The victory in Puerto Rico was so convincing that Romney, the GOP front-runner, won all 20 delegates to the national convention at stake because he prevailed with more than 50 percent of the vote. That padded his comfortable lead over Santorum in the race to amass the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
Romney announced the Puerto Rico win at the Illinois rally and told the crowd, “I intend to become our nominee and I intend to get Latino voters to vote for a Republican and take back the White House.”
Nevertheless, the GOP nomination fight is unlikely to end anytime soon, with Santorum refusing to step aside even though Romney is pulling further ahead in the delegate hunt.
As the day began, Santorum claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner.
“This is a primary process where somebody had a huge advantage, huge money advantage, huge advantage of establishment support and he hasn’t been able to close the deal and even come close to closing the deal,” Santorum said. “That tells you that there’s a real flaw there.”
Yet, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight Romney on the convention floor if he failed before August to stop the former Massachusetts governor from getting the required number of delegates.
Romney, in turn, expressed confidence that he’d prevail.
“I can’t tell you exactly how the process is going to work,” Romney said. “But I bet I’m going to become the nominee.”
Both campaigned in Puerto Rico last week – in a campaign focused on statehood for the U.S. territory – but Romney cut short his trip so he could head to Illinois and Santorum spent Sunday in Louisiana. Illinois, a more moderate Midwestern state, votes Tuesday and is seen as more friendly territory for Romney, while Santorum is the favorite in the more conservative Southern state of Louisiana, which votes Saturday.
Even as Santorum declined to commit to forcing a brokered convention, his advisers were working behind the scenes on a plan to persuade convention delegates to switch candidates if the former Pennsylvania senator fails to derail Romney before that.
Romney’s aides call this a fantasy scenario even as they try to prevent delegates from defecting.
Half of the states have yet to weigh in on a race with seemingly no end in sight anytime soon. That’s prompted fresh speculation within the GOP over whether a contested convention is likely.
Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus insisted the party will have a nominee sooner rather than later.
“We’re only at halftime,” Priebus said. “I think that this process is going to play itself out. We will have a nominee, I think, fairly soon – one, two months away.”