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Mitt Romney wins Puerto Rico primary, GOP campaign continues

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 18 2012 5:19 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses an audience during a campaign stop in Vernon Hills, Ill., Sunday, March 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Steven Senne, AP

» View our political blog, with updates and analysis of the GOP presidential nomination process.

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."

Late Sunday night, with 61 percent of the Puerto Rican votes counted, Romney had 83 percent of them. He 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."

The Santorum campaign accused Romney of pandering. "Mitt Romney says he supports English as the official language of America while on the mainland, but then says Puerto Ricans don't have to learn English while he's on Puerto Rico," Santorum communications director Hogan Gidley said in a press release.

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.

After the Puerto Rico victory, Romney had 521 delegates in his camp and Santorum had 253, according to The Associated Press' tally. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed with 136 delegates and Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 50.

Enrique Melendez, the Republican representative on the Puerto Rican State Electoral Commission, told the AP that Romney "won the Puerto Rican primary by a huge margin and we are granting him the 20 delegates."

At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.

Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time since 1976.

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.

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