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Mitt, Rick in Illinois: Their fight mirrors internal Illinois GOP battles

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By Lynn Sweet, Abdon M. Pallasch and Dave McKinney

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney -- facing more of a primary battle than he expected in Illinois -- is turning up the heat on chief rival Rick Santorum in advance of the Tuesday vote as both men stumped Friday in the northwest suburbs.

Romney is adding Illinois campaign stops over the weekend and released a new ad Friday slamming Santorum as an "economic lightweight" -- piling on top of anti-Santorum spots running in Illinois bankrolled by the SuperPAC backing Romney.

Santorum stumped at two Arlington Heights events while Romney headlined a breakfast in Rosemont, with their fight mirroring internal Illinois Republican battles. Newt Gingrich hit the Chicago suburbs Wednesday and Thursday -- but has faded as a factor in Illinois.

Romney has the support of most of the Illinois Republican establishment -- many who are moderates -- while Santorum's backers are the outsider conservative activists who helped the GOP win Illinois congressional seats in 2010.

"For the next several days, you can shake up this race like no state could shake it up," Santorum yelled at a raucus rally of sign-waving evangelicals and Catholics at Christian Liberty Academy Friday night in Arlington Heights.

Santorum added, "We're being outspent 10 to 1. And it's a state they say that just fits Romney, that it's just a moderate Republican state" where "conservatives don't have much of an opportunity in Illinois to speak. . . . You could make up for all of that frustration."

Romney did not refer to Santorum -- or President Barack Obama -- by name when he greeted backers invited by his campaign at Pancakes Eggcetera in Rosemont. But he alluded to them both in a short talk stressing his experience as a business executive.

"We are not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight if we nominate an economic lightweight," Romney said, underscoring a message aimed against Santorum for several days in paid and free media. "I am an economic heavyweight, and I know how to fix this economy," Romney said.

The Washington Post reported that in Illinois, Romney's campaign fund and the pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future had poured in $3.5 million, with Santorum and the SuperPAC backing him, Red White & Blue Fund, spending $517,000.

At an Arlington Heights restaurant, Santorum talked about his Illinois roots: he attended Carmel High School in Mundelein, an all-male Catholic school, his senior year after his parents were transferred to the Veterans Administration facility in North Chicago.

"I worked here a couple of summers, got some of my first jobs here," Santorum said, including shining shoes at a Lake Forest country club.

Illinois GOP voters cast two presidential ballot on Tuesday: a popular vote, or "beauty" contest and elections for the 54 delegates. Santorum starts with a delegate deficit, filing for only 44 of 54 Illinois slots.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 17, 2012 2:02 PM.

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