It's not just the above-average temperatures that are raising the heat index in Illinois, it's the high-stakes primary next Tuesday that is shaping up to be a major battleground for two Republican candidates, each with something to prove.
Mitt "the Mathematician" Romney, whose most memorable campaign message this week has been about his lead in the delegate count is hoping to pull off a Michigan or Ohio-like win in another Midwestern state.
While Rick Santorum, fresh off victories in Alabama and Mississippi, is aiming to rob his opponent of that prize and show that he can out-perform his opponent in a state with a less favorable electorate than he faced in the South.
Even though Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, has taken to writing memos referring to the "date of mathematical elimination" for Santorum and Newt Gingrich, a win for anybody but Romney in Illinois would matter.
That's why Romney is stepping up his ground game and air war there ahead of the March 20 contest.
The former Massachusetts governor is booked almost wall to wall with events in the state starting on Friday with just a brief 24-hour jaunt to Puerto Rico, which votes on Sunday. In fact, Romney plans to squeeze in a pancake breakfast in a Chicago suburb on Friday morning before flying to the island.
Santorum campaign officials in the state appear to be cautiously optimistic about their chances. Polls have not been plentiful, but at least one recent survey - taken before this Tuesday's primaries - showed Romney with a slightly lead and Santorum not far behind.
The vote rich Chicago suburbs are going to be tough for Santorum. They are more affluent and motivated more by economic issues more than ideological ones. But, competitive congressional primaries in these areas could help turn out more of the kinds of very conservative voters that have supported the former Pennsylvania senator over the course of this campaign.
The Santorum campaign is also counting on the more conservative downstate region (less suburban, more rural) for support.
ROMNEY'S ILLINOIS AIR SUPPORT: Rick Santorum's effort has already fallen behind on one measure in Illinois: television ad spending. Romney and the super PAC supporting him have already launched a multi-million dollar television ad blitz ahead of the primary.
Now, Santorum's campaign is getting into the action with what looks like a very modest ad buy - a little more than $120,000 worth of television time on Illinois cable, mostly concentrated in the Chicago area with some of the buy spilling over into the St. Louis, Mo. media market, according to a Republican media buyer.
So far, the Santorum campaign's investment is dwarfed by the more than $3 million being spent by the Romney campaign and the super PAC, Restore Our Future, in the Land of Lincoln.
We have yet to see a dime of spending ahead of the Illinois primary by the pro-Santorum super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund, although the group has purchased about $250,000 worth of airtime on the airwaves in Louisiana, which holds a primary on March 24.
JOE BIDEN MAKES CAMPAIGN 2012 DEBUT. Vice President Joe Biden today will begin to lay out a defining argument for President Obama's re-election with an Ohio speech outlining a simple, populist message aimed at independent voters in swing states, ABC's Devin Dwyer reports. In excerpts of his remarks released by the Obama campaign, Biden frames the coming general election as choice between two contrasting visions, rather than a referendum on Obama's record. "Stated simply, we're about promoting the private sector. They're about protecting the privileged sector," Biden will say in what will be his first public speech on the campaign trail. The event, scheduled to take place at a United Auto Workers union hall in Toledo, Ohio, is the first of four planned for the next few weeks at which Biden will lay out the stakes of the November election as the president's campaign sees them. "We're a fair shot, and a fair shake. They're about no rules, no risk and no accountability," he will say, according to the campaign. Biden also portrays Obama as a principled and decisive leader, in contrast to the Republican most likely to challenge Obama - Mitt Romney - whom Democrats have portrayed as a flip-flopper "without a core." "This man has a spine of steel," Biden will say of the president, referring to the 2009 auto industry bailout that many Republicans, including Romney, opposed. http://abcn.ws/yBndub
Obama Campaign Capitalizes on GOP Disarray: ABC's Jake Tapper screened an exclusive clip from the Obama campaign's new Davis Guggenheim film. The clip focuses on President Obama's personal mission to pass the health care reform law earlier in his term. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/wYWjN7
JAKE TAPPER'S FOUR QUESTIONS FOR HBO'S BILL MAHER.
TAPPER: So with all the criticism of Rush Limbaugh for his comments about the Georgetown Law student, conservatives claim that there's a double standard, with President Obama, Democrats and the media far more tolerant of offensive language when wielded by liberal or progressive media figures against conservative women. Is that a fair comparison? You have certainly used offensive words to describe some politicians you don't like
MAHER: I'm a comedian - not just a guy who says he is, like Rush, but someone who - well, you saw me do stand-up last year in D.C. There's a big difference between just saying you're a comedian and going out and getting thousands of people to laugh hard for 90 minutes. And the one I'm compared to most is Carlin, who also had these kind of problems. Edgy is my brand - everyone wants that, but they say, "but never go over the line." It's like telling Tom Brady, 'Throw into coverage 40 times a game every game but never throw an interception.'"
More from Tapper's interview: http://abcn.ws/AF0R3Q
SANTORUM BRINGS CAMPAIGN TO PUERTO RICO. ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports from San Juan: Rick Santorum arrived in Puerto Rico, a territory that has 23 delegates in a race that has become a hunt for them. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno has already endorsed Mitt Romney, but he is a personal friend of the former Pennsylvania senator. While Santorum was serving in the Senate, Fortuno was the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, representing the territory in Washington, D.C. They also attended the same church. Fortuno met Santorum's plane at 3 a.m. Wednesday, when Santorum arrived from his primary night rally in Lafayette, La. Later in the day, standing outside the governor's mansion in the Old San Juan neighborhood surrounded by reporters from the island and the mainland, Santorum said he understood the early backing because "the establishment across America lined up behind Governor Romney very early on, and I certainly respect that." Santorum, who had met with the governor inside the mansion, touted his ties to the island, telling reporters, "I was referred to by many in my state as Senadore Puertorriqueno. They used to make fun of me, 'Why are you representing Puerto Rico?' 'Well, someone has to because they don't have a voice.'…I felt a responsibility to the island." Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. in 1898 after 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, and in 1917 Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship. http://abcn.ws/AqVfjN
WHY ISN'T GINGRICH GETTING OUT? Asked and answered by ABC's Jonathan Karl: Newt Gingrich has won only two of the 25 states to vote so far, a win-loss record that makes the 1962 Mets look like a powerhouse, he's about to find it much harder to get news coverage and he will face even more pressure to drop out from conservatives who say he is helping Romney win by dividing their vote. But Newt Gingrich is not getting out of the race any time soon. Here's why: Gingrich firmly believes that staying in the race is the best way to prevent Mitt Romney from clinching the nomination before the convention in August. And he actually may have a point. Gingrich explained his rationale to me late Tuesday as results were coming in. "We're actually helping because between us - Santorum and I - are stopping Romney," Gingrich said. Gingrich knows that it is virtually impossible for him, or Santorum for that matter, to beat Romney on delegates, but he makes the case - and it is not far-fetched - that unless Romney starts winning delegates at a faster pace he won't clinch nomination by end the end of the primaries. http://abcn.ws/w8Mquk
ROMNEY'S FEISTY FOX NEWS INTERVIEW. In a candid and even feisty interview on Fox News' Wednesday, Mitt Romney said that despite losses in Mississippi and Alabama primaries on Tuesday and despite ongoing criticism of his ability to connect with voters he is still the only candidate who can defeat President Obama, ABC's Emily Friedman reports. Asked by Fox's Megyn Kelly about his critics' comments that he is still struggling to connect with the conservative core of the Republican party, Romney went on the defensive, listing the states he has won. "Well I'm sorry they have to go back at some other states that actually are kind of important, let's say Florida for instance where I won and Michigan and Ohio and Nevada and New Hampshire, the list goes on," said Romney, who appeared in the Fox News studio in between a series of high-dollar fundraisers he traveled to New York to attend. "Last night by the way they're forgetting there were a couple of other contests like Hawaii, where I won." "Oh and by the way last night I got more delegates than anyone else," Romney added. http://abcn.ws/yCgoeK
RON PAUL SUPPORTERS CAUSE CONVENTION CHAOS. After 25 state election contests, Ron Paul remains without a single win. But, as ABC's Jason Volack notes, the Texas congressman isn't giving up hope of capturing the Republican nomination. Aides say Paul is banking on his organization to help him pick up a plurality or even a majority of delegates in several state conventions, including Maine, Washington State, Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota and Iowa. And as the campaigning continues, there are signs that Paul supporters are willing to make the nominating process messy. They're accused of muddying county conventions in Colorado and Iowa last weekend. In Iowa, a half dozen counties reported disruptions during conventions. The most egregious example occurred in Polk County, where Paul supporters illegally tried to become delegates. "They were abrasive, offensive, and self-centered," said Kevin McLaughlin, GOP chairman in Polk County. In Colorado, Ron Paul supporters shouted down Denver County GOP Chairman Danny Stroud, demanding rule changes in favor of their candidate. Paul Campaign Chair Jesse Benton calls the allegations against his supporters "silly," claiming that those who are complaining are frustrated with being out-organized. http://abcn.ws/yRo7Ig
DELEGATE NUMEROLOGY: ROMNEY'S STILL AHEAD. Romney is still well on pace - if he maintains current momentum - to win the nomination, notes ABC News number cruncher Z. Byron Wolf. When you look at the race from a national perspective, more Republicans by a long shot have voted for Romney. And his delegate totals surpass all of his rivals combined. There are 2,286 Republican Delegates up for grabs in 2012. 1,357 delegates are outstanding - meaning they haven't been awarded or projected by ABC. 1,144 delegates are needed to win the nomination. http://abcn.ws/ySVazp
-Romney has 496 (53 percent of those awarded so far), so he needs 648 to win the nomination. (About 48 percent of those remaining)
-Santorum has 252 delegates, so he needs 892 to win the nomination. (66 percent)Gingrich has 133 delegates, so he needs 1011 to win the nomination. (74 percent)
-Gingrich and Santorum together have 385, and so need 759 to win the nomination. (56 percent)
-Ron Paul has 48 Delegates. (He'd have to win 80 percent of the remaining delegates)
All three non-Romney candidates added together have 433 delegates - fewer than Romney on his own. So they need a combined 711 to deprive him of victory. (52 percent of those remaining)
@ThePlumLineGS : Top GOP leaders privately warning Romney : You're putting party at risk with Latinos over the long haul:
@samsteinhp :Top ten bro-love moments between Obama and Cameron last night (scroll to end)
@nationaljournal : Puerto Rico's rep to Congress, Pedro Pierluisi tells Rick Santorum: Puerto Ricans "are Americans"
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