Mitt Romney Projected to Win Illinois Primary, Santorum 2nd

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Santorum took shots at Romney in his primary-night speech, arguing that "we don't need a manager" as president, alluding to the former governor's job at the private-equity firm Bain Capital.

"It's great to have Wall Street experience," he said. "I don't have Wall Street experience, but I have experience growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania."

Exit polls from Illinois found that six in 10 voters, who were typically less ideological than Republicans in the states Romney has lost, said Romney had the best chance of beating Obama. The front-runner also led Santorum narrowly as the candidate who voters said understands their problems the best.

Romney, who told his supporters that Obama has prevented the country from leading the world in manufacturing and accused him of general American dream-crushing, said in his speech that "when we replace a law professor with a conservative businessman as president, that's going to end."

"The economy is struggling because the government is too big," he said. "Each day we move closer, not just to victory, but to a better America."

Romney badly needed to win big in Illinois to deny Santorum the momentum he has gained as he added southern states to his win column, most recently Alabama and Mississippi a week ago.

Gallup reported as Illinoisans voted that Romney's lead over Santorum nationally was 34 percent to 30 percent, though the former Pennsylvania senator is still the preferred choice among conservatives and Midwestern voters. That national measure has also swung back and forth like a heavy pendulum; in the middle of February, for example, Santorum led Romney by 10 points.

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