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Romney plays the numbers game in Illinois

In the past, whenever Mitt Romney said something stupid, his super PAC would come to the rescue with a money bomb. Attacking his rivals distracted you from whatever dumb thing Romney just said.

Rick Santorum hasn't had that luxury. First, he said college was for snobs. Then he dissed Kennedy. In Puerto Rico, he told voters to stop speaking Spanish. This week, he offered this arch-howler: "I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates."

What he meant to say (I think) is that jobs will come when government gets out of the way of business enterprise. Maximum markets means maximum freedom, and the president's job isn't to fix the economy so much as empower others to help themselves.

Like I said, I think that's what he means. More certain is that Santorum does not have the money to cover his ass. Romney outspent his rivals seven to one in Illinois. Either Santorum needs deeper pockets or he needs to stop giving Romney gifts of ammunition

Of course, Romney pounced, saying that he's concerned about the unemployment rate (which is officially 8.3 per cent nationally; 9.4 in Illinois). But there wasn't much doubt that Romney would win. Polls on Monday showed Romney with double-digit leads over Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. The question was how big the margin of victory would be to win the most delegates.

The answer is a lot. As of 9:30 EST, with about half of precincts reporting, Romney had half the votes, with Santorum far behind at 32.9 per cent, Paul at just over 9 per cent and Gingrich at 7.5.

Romney has longed for a decisive win over Santorum. His victory Tuesday says he's Mr. Establishment, as one Bloomberg columnist quipped, and that he has what it takes to win over voters in the heartland, a perceived weakness that had formerly dogged him.

Prior to Tuesday, the mainstream media had finally woken up to the mathematical reality of Romney's almost insurmountable lead. He has so many delegates now that even when he "loses", as he did with Alabama and Mississippi, he still adds delegates to his pile. The media, which is already bored with this longer-than-expected nomination, will now likely start asking the other candidates with more urgency if and when they are going to step away.

And Romney will help by turning his attention to Obama. His victory speech in Illinois has all the makings of an opening salvo:

We shared the conviction that the America that we loved was in struggle and adrift without strong leadership. And three years of Barack Obama have brought us fewer jobs and shrinking paychecks ... "It's time to say these words -- this word: Enough.

Santorum's strategy now seems to be making the distinction between a real conservative and a so-called Rino ("Republican in name only"). On Tuesday, he said that he won in places where conservatives actually live -- in small towns and farm country -- not in cities where Democrats and Rinos typically reside. This, again, is an attempt to paint Romney as not conservative enough, but such a ploy misunderstands Republican history. Whenever a leader has finally risen above the pack, Republicans typically get in line even if they don't particularly like him. That's Mitt Romney to a T.

In fact, Romney's biggest problem isn't winning, but getting voters to vote. The previous record for the lowest voter turnout was in 1996 with 32 per cent, according to the Chicago Tribune. This time around voter turnout was -- wait for it -- 15 percent.

Former House Speaker Gingrich doesn't often say much that's either good or true, but he nailed it when he complained about Romney's money bombs. He said:

To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can't nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1. Instead, we need a nominee who offers powerful solutions that hold the president accountable for his failures.

Romney is running a numbers game now, but beating an incumbent, himself armed to the teeth with deep-pocketed donors, is going to take more than a numbers strategy. It's going to take charisma and that may be one of the few things Romney's money can't buy.