WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary Tuesday, widening his lead in the Republican race for the White House.
"Thank you, Illinois. What a night," Romney told supporters in his victory speech Tuesday night.
It was just the win the former governor needed, after narrow victories in Michigan and Ohio and a campaign map that shows his primary challenger, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, with strong support in the Midwest and South.
"We know our future is brighter than these troubled times," Romney said. "We still believe in America. We need a president who believes in us, and I believe in the American people."
Romney refused to risk losing in the land of Lincoln, outspending Santorum seven to one.
Adding salt to the wound, Santorum was only eligible to win 44 of the state's 54 delegates because of filing problems.
Still, with "freedom" as his backdrop, the former Pennsylvania senator vowed to keep on fighting, looking ahead to Louisiana's primary this weekend and beyond.
"We've got five weeks to a big win and a big sweep in Pennsylvania," Santorum said.
The good news for Santorum is that he's starting to make inroads with Republican women. A new poll shows him surging ahead of Romney among that demographic, giving him more incentive to stay in race.
"As long as they believe that they have a chance for a brokered convention, they're going to keep in the race, hoping that it will be a deadlock and their turn will come at the convention," Georgetown University's Mark Rom said.
Meanwhile, Romney continues to focus attention on the man he hopes to unseat in November, President Barack Obama.
He referenced the president's recent speech on energy, in which Obama described America as a nation of inventors and builders:
"We are Thomas Edison," the president said. "We are the Wright brothers. We are Bill Gates. We are Steve Jobs -- that's who we are."
Romney pounced, blaming the administration for holding back economic growth.
"That's true," he said of the president's speech. "But the problem is he's still Barack Obama. And under this President, those pioneers would have faced an uphill battle to innovate, invent, and create."
Romney now leads Santorum by more than two to one, though he's still shy of the halfway mark in the race for delegates.
Tuesday's win pushes Romney to 563 delegates. Santorum follows in second place with 263.