Count FHQ among the chorus of voices out there that was not overly moved by Mitt Romney's victory in the Illinois primary Tuesday night. Was it a foregone conclusion? Not necessarily. Did Rick Santorum have a chance? Sure, I suppose so. But more importantly, was it a surprise? No. No, it was not.
And for a race that badly needs a surprise -- if you are one of the many out there hoping for a continually chaotic march to 1144 -- Illinois did not stray too terribly far from the demographic voting pattern that has emerged in this race. Santorum wins evangelical, rural and working class voters while Romney takes well-educated, upper income and moderate voters. Illinois was a Romney state in the same way that Louisiana is shaping up to be a Santorum state this coming weekend.
Yet, that has not prevented some from stating that Illinois feels like a turning point. From the psychological standpoint that may be true. Illinois was billed as another last best chance for Santorum to crack the hold Romney has had on the midwest/Rust Belt states to have held contests thus far. By that metric, Santorum failed once again. Is Illinois different than Michigan or Ohio? FHQ won't hazard a guess.
However, there is an easy way to test this "Illinois as turning point" theory. The problem is that we won't be able to use until May. I am in complete agreement with Ryan Lizza's take (linked above) that we can in a rudimentary way chart how well candidates will do in upcoming states.1 By that measure, Romney is in for a good month in April. But will that performance be impacted by Illinois? Perhaps, but that impact will more than likely be very well masked by the demographics of those states carrying Romney to victory.2 That is the reason that the Santorum campaign conference call earlier in the week was light on the details of an April strategy and comparatively heavy on the role May states play in the former Pennsylvania senator's efforts to keep Romney under 1144 during primary season.
If in May, then, we begin to notice Romney either winning or noticeably closing the gap on Santorum in projected Santorum states -- Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and Texas -- then we may look back to Illinois as a turning point. But it could be that we look back to even earlier contests -- to Florida or South Carolina -- as those turning points as well. Any protracted delegate battle can traced back to opportunities rival (and underdog) campaigns squandered in their efforts to stunt the growth an emerging delegate margin for the frontrunner. Florida and South Carolina were those opportunities for Gingrich/Santorum. Gingrich did lead in the contest delegate count -- never mind those pesky automatic delegates -- between South Carolina and Florida.
...but that was for a mere ten days.
For Illinois, though, it was just another in a long line of opportunities missed for the not Romneys.
1 And this may or may not help Mr. Lizza, but I have been working on the next step of his process -- the delegate count through that demographic -- myself. The problem is that allocating delegates in future states is a tricky, messy business that is made all the more problematic by redistricting. The data may be out there to construct Obama/McCain vote shares in new districts or to ascertain the correlation between that incomplete dataset and say the most recent PVI numbers from the Cook Political Report to potentially fill in the blanks. One could even use the 2008 Republican primary data as a means of mapping this onto the current race. The problem there of course is that one would have to reconstruct the data from the precinct level up to the new congressional districts. Those are hard enough options to come by, but finding numbers on evangelicals in the new districts is tougher still. Believe me, I'm trying.
2 Yes this assumes that Romney does well. But recall that if Illinois is to tell us anything about the future contests it would have to tell us a Romney story (Romney won there.). Disruptions/surprises in the other direction are not a part of that calculus, but may (but likely won't) occur and throw this theory on its head.
Santorum Has Rule #40 Problems, Too
Race to 1144: Illinois Primary
Why Santorum's Delegate Math Isn't So Bad But the Explanation Is
Are you following FHQ on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook? Click on the links to join in.