Illinois Primary: Suburban Slog (The Note)

Steven Senne/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

CHICAGO - Turn on the television in Illinois and you know there is an election coming up. But travel around the Chicago suburbs and you don't see or feel any sign of it.

As we learned in our conversations with activists in the suburbs yesterday, this low energy could be problematic for Romney - who needs to run up the score in the collar counties surrounding Chicago.

More than 60 percent of the vote is expected to come from the 'burbs, while a much smaller portion of the vote comes from rural downstate. Suburban voters are typically less ideological and focused more on pocket book issues than social issues, something that should prove right up Romney's alley.

Romney supporter state Rep. David Harris, who represents the Cook County suburb of Mt. Prospect, worries that Romney still hasn't been able to connect with skeptical conservative Republicans.

"I think Mitt Romney is just as conservative as Ronald Reagan - when Reagan said something, you kind of felt it's coming from his soul. You just know that's the way the guy feels," said Harris, whose office displays photos of his days as a Reagan campaign aide. "And while I believe that Mitt Romney is just as conservative and feels those same things, it just doesn't come across or get conveyed the same way."

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran is one of those enthusiastic Santorum supporters who should worry the Romney camp. At a local tavern in leafy Long Grove, Curran, a former Democrat, denounced Romney as out of touch or, as he put it, "off in la-la-land."

"I think Romney travels in circles of only the uber-rich and as a result he has a hard time connecting with large blocks of America - certainly the middle class, which is very much overlooked right now," Curran said. "Santorum is being outspent 10-1, he is being destroyed in misleading ads, but he's still there. Why? Because when people meet him, they see he's the real deal, his authenticity."

There's little doubt that Romney has done an effective job trashing Santorum - Republican sources tracking ad buys show he's outspent the former Pennsylvania senator in the state by a 7 to 1 margin and in the Chicago metro area by a 20-1 margin. But, he has yet to prove that he's made an effective case for himself.

The only way to prove that: a big margin of victory.

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe contributed reporting from Illinois.



SANTORUM: Ahead of the primary in Illinois today, Rick Santorum pounded Mitt Romney throughout the day Monday arguing that he "abandoned freedom" as governor of Massachusetts, ABC's Arlette Saenz notes. But as he attempted to paint his campaign as one based on freedom, Santorum flubbed a comment about unemployment rates by saying "I don't care what the unemployment rate is."  When he made the comment, Santorum intended to stress that his campaign isn't focused on one main issue but looking at the broader goal of preserving freedom.  Santorum later attempted to clarify his statement to reporters by saying "of course" he was concerned about unemployment rates but that his "candidacy doesn't hinge" on them.  By the end of the day, Santorum said he sometimes wishes he could have a "do-over" but thinks it's important for voters to see an unscripted candidate like himself, "mistakes and all."

ROMNEY: Mitt Romney delivered an economic speech yesterday that slammed the president's handling of the economy, accusing him of allowing regulators to "multiple like rabbits" that have, in turn, stifled Americans' economic freedom, ABC's Emily Friedman reports. "Our status and our standing in the world are in peril because the source of our economic strength is threatened," Romney said, delivering a speech at the University of Chicago. "Over the last several decades, and particularly over the last three years, Washington has consistently encroached upon our freedom. "The Obama administration's assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid, and why it couldn't meet their projections, let alone our expectations," he said. "If we don't change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come."


SHOTS FIRED: ROMNEY AND GAS PRICES. Ahead of today's Illinois primary, the Democratic super PAC, American Bridge, has released a slick new web video exposing what the groups sees as Mitt Romney's inconsistency on the issue of gas prices - a new hot topic in the presidential race. The clip highlights differences between what Romney wrote in his 2010 book, "No Apology," and what he's been saying on the campaign trail this year. WATCH:


PRIMARY PRIMER. ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield identifies five important things to know going into today's primary.

1.) There's a hefty delegate prize: 69 delegates are at stake in Illinois. Only 54 of them will be allocated tonight, leaving an additional 15 delegates to be awarded at the state's convention in June.

2.) The popular vote won't affect the delegates awarded, which might cause a problem for Rick Santorum: Illinois's primary is a bit complex as far as awarding delegates is concerned. The state holds a presidential preference vote, which determines the overall winner of the state. But the vote has no bearing on the allocation of the 54 delegates being doled out today. Instead, voters will directly elect delegates from a list of names on the ballot in their own congressional districts. This is a disadvantage for Santorum. He failed to qualify for the ballot in four out of Illinois' 18 congressional districts, making him ineligible for a total of 10 delegates. So it will be difficult for him to win the majority of delegates today, regardless of who wins that statewide vote.

3.) Big money has been spent in the state: Romney and his allies have spent a lot of money on ad buys leading up to the March 20 primary - more than $3.5 million.  By comparison, Santorum has not spent nearly as much - only about $500,000.

4.) Any registered voter can participate: There are 8,282,924 registered voters in Illinois, all of whom could, technically, participate in the primary, provided they registered by March 13, and verbally confirm at their polling place that they are indeed a Republican.

5.) Lots of votes have already been cast: Voters in Illinois looking to cast ballots before today had a myriad of options from which to choose, and tabulations from the state elections board show they took advantage of the smorgasbord.

THE STAKES. ABC's Rick Klein writes that Santorum needs an upset today. He needs it to come in a big state, and fast, for him to change the dynamics of the race sufficiently for him to actually win.Why Illinois? For starters, it's next on a calendar that isn't particularly friendly to Santorum these next few weeks. After Louisiana votes this weekend, Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia (where Santorum isn't even on the ballot) are up next, and will be tough for Santorum to break through in. Plus, voting in Illinois takes place as Santorum has something to prove. His decision to burn two gaffe-filled campaign days in Puerto Rico, where he secured just 8 percent of the vote and zero delegates yesterday, may stand as one of the biggest miscalculations of the election.



SANTORUM CAMPAIGN FLOATS NEW DELEGATE MATH SHOWING A TIGHTER RACE. Rick Santorum's number crunchers are under no illusions that they are facing a tooth-and-nail fight with Mitt Romney over delegates, but their calculations show a significantly narrower gap between the two contenders than most estimates. The Santorum campaign offered ABC News a sneak peek at their in-house delegate tally, which still shows the former Pennsylvania senator trailing Romney but in a much better position to catch him. "There is the Romney way of going about the counting and then there is the real way of going about the counting," John Yob, Santorum's delegate strategist, said in an interview on Monday.

Here's how the Santorum campaign sees the standings in the race for delegates:

Romney: 435

Santorum: 311

Gingrich: 158

Paul: 91

The Santorum campaign's version of the count puts them 124 delegates shy of Romney. By comparison, the ABC News delegate estimate shows Santorum 268 delegates behind Romney. Here is the ABC News delegate estimate, which tracks closely with tallied kept by other news organizations, including the Associated Press:

Romney: 521

Santorum: 253

Gingrich: 136

Paul: 50

Uncommitted: 2

KAREN SANTORUM: WOMEN HAVE 'NOTHING TO FEAR' FROM HER HUSBAND. Former senator and GOP candidate Rick Santorum often jokes that American voters prefer hearing more from his wife and less from him. ABC's Alexa Keyes notes that Karen Santorum heeded her husband's call last night for "less Rick, more Karen" on a solo interview with CNN's Piers Morgan. The 51-year-old mother of seven was interviewed on "Piers Morgan Tonight" before Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who recently took a jab at Santorum's contraception beliefs (and the couple's large brood) when he joked that Santorum's Secret Service detail is the first time he has "used protection." "Sometimes you have to just laugh and other times you just shut it out and ignore it," Karen Santorum told Morgan. "But I thought that was funny." The neo-natal nurse and former law student also insisted her husband would not make changes to contraception laws if he becomes president. "Women have nothing to fear when it comes to contraceptives," she said, adding that her husband would "absolutely not" bring his personal religious beliefs "to play" as president.

ROMNEY RED ALERT. ABC's Jake Tapper spots a flashing red light for Mitt Romney. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll of Virginia not only does President Obama win head to head against Romney 50 percent to 42 percent in a hypothetical match up, but Obama leads among women 52 percent to 39 percent. Obama's favorables are 51 percent (favorable) 44 percent (unfavorable). Romney's are negative: 36 percent (favorable) 43 percent (unfavorable). It's more grist for the Obama argument that Romney is doing himself real damage in this primary.

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR HEALTH CARE CHALLENGE: WHAT TO EXPECT. Next week when the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the president's health care reform law and whether the government can require Americans to buy health insurance through a so-called "individual mandate" there will be six hours of arguments featuring six different lawyers over three days, ABC's Ariane de Vogue notes. That's a marathon by Supreme Court standards. Most cases are heard over a single day and rarely for longer than an hour. For starters, the court will allow audio recording of the proceedings. This is rare, but not unprecedented, and is usually reserved for big cases. The first time the court permitted audio recording was during Bush v. Gore in 2000. But don't expect a live feed of the case. And handheld devices aren't allowed in the court either, so there won't be any Tweeting of the arguments as they're happening. Audio and court transcripts will be turned around after arguments same day. Supporters and opponents of the law have extensive plans for reaction outside of court. Here's a brief look at the schedule and the issues:


@mckaycoppins : The secret of Mitt's success - blue states, Mormon bastions, and U.S. territories that can't vote in November

@BuzzFeedBen : The secret of Obama's success was red states, territories, African-American strongholds… nature of the process, to a degree at least.

@RyanLizza : Love that Gingrich is reading Ballots & Bandwagons, a 1964 book about 5 historic brokered conventions b/w 1900 & 1956.

@googlepolitics : Watch the 1st in a series of GOP presidential candidate hangouts on Google+ w/  @MittRomney at 2:45 PM ET #AskMitt

@brianstelter : NYT "will be moving the pay gate at to 10 free articles a month from 20, beginning in April," publisher tells staff.



by ABC's Chris Good

-Romney Avoids Mentioning Santorum. Campaigning in Illinois ahead of today's primary, Mitt Romney has repeatedly avoided mentioning his opponent, instead framing his stump speeches around the general election against President Obama. The Rock Island Argus reports that on Monday, Romney failed to mention Santorum's name during a 10-minute speech in Springfield and "hardly talked about" the state's primary.

-Santorum vs. Wall Street. Since early in the 2012 race, Rick Santorum has pitched his electability against President Obama, highlighting his rust-belt background as a former Pennsylvania senator. On Monday, he put it differently in attacking his rival during a speech in Rockford, Ill.: "I'm not a Wall Street financier like [Romney] was … Do you think this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier?"

-Santorum Visits Reagan's Hometown. Santorum used his last bit of time before Tuesday's primary to visit Dixon, Ill., where Ronald Reagan attended high school. "I need you to rise up and speak loudly from the place of freedom here in Dixon, Illinois," the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Santorum as saying. "Let the voice of Reagan be heard across this land."

-Romney Picks Up an Endorsement in Louisiana. Having enjoyed establishment-GOP backing in multiple primary states so far, Mitt Romney picked up the endorsement of Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R) on Monday, ahead of Saturday's primary. "Conservatives looking to win in November and replace President Obama's failed policies with a pro-growth agenda should look no further than Mitt Romney," Dardenne said. Gov. Bobby Jindal supported Rick Perry's presidential bid.



- Mitt Romney starts primary day with a visit to Google Headquarters in Chicago, IL. This evening, Romney will watch the returns at the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumberg, IL.

- Rick Santorum spends the day back home in Virginia before heading to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for his election night party at the Gettysburg Hotel.

- Newt Gingrich is on the trail in Louisiana ahead of their Saturday Primary. Gingrich will make stops in Shreveport, Ruston, and Monroe.

- Ron Paul is out west in California attending a luncheon at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport and making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

-ABC's Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)

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