Mitt Romney "crushed" GOP presidential rival Rick Santorum in Illinois' primary on Tuesday, winning 47 percent of the vote to Santorum's 35 percent and taking home 54 of the state's 69 delegates. Onetime contender Newt Gingrich came in fourth, with 8 percent, behind Ron Paul, with 9 percent. Illinois was considered a must-win state for both Santorum and Romney, and the race was expected to be close as recently as a week ago. What does it mean for Romney, and the GOP presidential race, that the Bostonian won in a landslide? Here, five takeaways:
1. Romney may have reached a "tipping point"
Illinois "was an important pivot moment for Romney," says Maggie Haberman at Politico. You could see him "noticeably more at ease" in his general-election-sounding victory speech, and his confident "conveying of an aura of inevitability" worked much better than his earlier bragging about an inevitable delegate win. Illinois was definitely "Romney's tipping point," says Gary Younge in Britain's The Guardian. In this race, notching a "double-digit victory in a big state where he does not have a house, did not grow up, and where all the candidates were participating" counts as a potentially narrative-changing win.
2. His cash advantage is paying off big time
"Romney and his allies outspent Santorum heavily in Illinois, and it worked," says Politico's Haberman. Romney's 7-to-1 spending advantage — 21-to-1 in the Chicago area — went largely toward negative ads that "ground down the insurgent's favorables," just like they did with Gingrich in Florida. This super PAC–aided ability to "crush his rivals on the airwaves" is Romney's trump card, and he's already playing it again in Wisconsin and Maryland. Campaign finance isn't very sexy, but "super PACs have been one of the biggest stories of the 2012 cycle, and Tuesday night was no exception."
3. Romney is finally finding his voice
On Tuesday, "perhaps for the first time, the argument that Romney will be a better candidate for what he's been through didn't sound completely outlandish," says John Cassidy in The New Yorker, at least for the 15 minutes he was giving "his best speech of the campaign." He relentlessly drew contrasts with President Obama, and for once seemed to believe what he was saying. Here, finally, "was the Romney that [Karl] Rove, Fred Malek, Ed Gillespie, and other GOP panjandrums have been pinning their hopes on."
4. But the race will slog on
Romney will "extend his already near-determinative delegate lead" with his Illinois blowout, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. But not even his "staunchest allies" think he got what he really needs — true momentum — or landed "the single knockout blow he needs to convincingly end this race." That means "the slog continues," with Romney and Santorum trading wins until at least June.
5. And many Republicans still aren't happy
Romney "may be on the verge of sealing things numerically, but he still has work to do to seal it emotionally," says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. Anecdotal evidence and exit polls suggest that the GOP is "in like, but not in love," with Romney, says Roger Simon at Politico. Turnout was low, and "the Illinois contest failed to generate much enthusiasm, even in the state," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast, but that's fine with Romney. Sure, "he generates limited enthusiasm" among Republicans, but he "wins by not losing," and not losing will make him the nominee.