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Romney easily wins Illinois primary; Plummer and Harriman win 12th District contests

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 20, 2012 - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cruised to victory in Illinois’ presidential primary, winning the vast majority of delegates up for grabs in his march toward the Republican nomination for president.

Closer to home, Jason Plummer – the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010 – emerged victorious in the 12th congressional district Republican primary. He will face off against Democrat Brad Harriman in the fall.

Romney easily clinched the non-binding popular vote in the state. He captured about 46.7 percent of vote, compared to 35 percent for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, got 9.3 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, picked up 7.9 percent.

The state received plenty of attention from both Romney and Santorum, especially after opinion polls showed a tightening race. Still, Illinois’ 54 delegates are divided proportionally by congressional district. And Santorum was only eligible to take 44 out of the 54 delegates because his campaign didn’t submit enough signatures in four districts. CNN reported that Romney was on pace to pick up at least 41 delegates, while Santorum only added at least 10 to his tally.

The New York Times also reported that Romney expanded his base of support, winning, for example, Tea Party conservatives who usually have voted for Santorum.

For his part, Santorum, who had stressed his socially conservatism, also had to contend with Illinois Republicans’ tendency to prefer more moderate candidates.

Romney swept delegates in and around the Chicagoland area, where most of the state’s congressional districts are located. He also did well in some central Illinois counties, such as Sangamon County where Springfield is located.

“Elections are about choices,” Romney said at a victory celebration in Schaumburg. “And today hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters have joined millions across the country in our cause.”

Santorum, however, did better in counties around the St. Louis metro area. He picked up delegates in the 12th District, which includes East St. Louis, Granite City and Belleville.

He also prevailed in the 15th District, which includes a swath of southern and eastern parts of the state. Romney, though, picked up delegates in the 13th District, which includes parts of southern Illinois. That area was one of the four congressional districts where Santorum didn't submit enough signatures for delegates.

Plummer, Harriman easily win in 12th District

Meanwhile, Plummer scored an easy victory in the three-way GOP contest for the 12th congressional district. In addition to Plummer and Cook, the race also included O’Fallon nurse Theresa Kormos.

Plummer snagged roughly 55.7 percent of the Republican vote. Cook got 35.9 percent, while Kormos had 8.4 percent.

"It is an honor to be voted the Republican nominee for the 12th congressional seat," Plummer said in a statement. "None of this would be possible without the campaign's countless supporters. The fight to turn the 12th congressional district red begins tomorrow morning."

With name recognition from his statewide bid in 2010 and a financial advantage, Plummer was the favorite in the primary. But verbal skirmishes between Cook and Plummer became increasingly nasty, a hint that the race could be closer than expected.

Start of update: At a “unity breakfast” Wednesday at the Madison County Republican headquarters in Belleville, all three candidates briefly spoke about desire to perform strongly in the sprawling congressional district.

“Campaigns take a toll on you, they take a toll on your friends and family,” Plummer said. “There are 12 counties in this district; I went up and down the counties constantly. I always ran into either Theresa or Rodger somewhere. They worked really hard.”

Plummer said one positive sign was the fact that more Republicans pulled more ballots in Madison County than Democrats.

“The Republican Party should be extremely proud,” Plummer said. “And the Republicans down there should be really extremely happy about the quality of candidates we had up and down the ballot. It says a lot about the opportunities we have in November.”

While Kormos expressed her support for Plummer’s candidacy, Cook’s brief speech didn’t. Asked afterward if there was any reason why he didn’t mention Plummer, Cook said, “Yeah.”

“I have no reason to,” Cook said. “I said good luck to everybody... Have you seen the hit on me? What do you think I’m going to say if I’m going to talk about that today? I’m going to get emotional and passionate because I’m an honest guy and I don’t hide. And if I said something in there, it probably wouldn’t be great for the future of this country or this district.”

Cook, however, said the two may have a face-to-face reconciliation at some point. End of update.

Former St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Brad Harriman easily won his primary, as expected. Harriman had token competition, especially after Iraq War veteran Chris Miller dropped out of the race.

“We can fight to create jobs right here in Illinois, or we can side with extreme Republicans who would rather reward corporations that ship our jobs overseas and give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires,” Harriman said in a statement. “If I'm elected, I will fight for Illinois' hard-working families, seniors and students. I will work with members of both parties to create good jobs right here in southern Illinois, to control our deficit and to protect Medicare and Social Security." 

With Costello retiring, national Republicans see a chance to make headway in the traditionally Democratic district.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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