Romney easily wins Puerto Rico as focus turns to Illinois
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney has sailed to a win in Puerto Rico's GOP presidential primary over chief rival Rick Santorum.
That's according to Enrique Melendez, the Republican representative on the Puerto Rican State Electoral Commission.
He tells The Associated Press that Romney will top 50 percent and win all 20 of the island's delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention in August.
As the day began, Santorum claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner even though he comfortably leads in the fight for delegates to the nominating convention.
"This is a primary process where somebody had a huge advantage, huge money advantage, huge advantage of establishment support and he hasn't been able to close the deal and even come close to closing the deal," Santorum said of Romney. "That tells you that there's a real flaw there."
Yet, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight the front-runner on the convention floor if he failed before the August gathering in Tampa, Fla., to stop Romney from getting the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination.
Romney, in turn, expressed confidence that he'd prevail.
"I can't tell you exactly how the process is going to work," Romney said. "But I bet I'm going to become the nominee."
Both candidates campaigned on the mainland -- Romney in Illinois and Santorum in Louisiana -- as Puerto Rico determined who would get its 20 delegates.
Before Puerto Rico's vote was in, Romney had 501 delegates in his camp and Santorum had 253, according to The Associated Press' tally. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed with 136 delegates and Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 50.
At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.
Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time since 1976.
Even as Santorum declined to commit to forcing a brokered convention, his advisers were working behind the scenes on a plan to persuade convention delegates to switch candidates if the former Pennsylvania senator fails to derail Romney before that.
Romney's aides call this a fantasy scenario even as they try to prevent delegates from defecting.
Half of the states have yet to weigh in on a race with seemingly no end in sight anytime soon. That's prompted fresh speculation within the GOP over whether a contested convention is likely.
Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus insisted that his party will have a nominee sooner rather than later.
"We're only at halftime," Priebus said. "I think that this process is going to play itself out. We will have a nominee, I think, fairly soon -- one, two months away."
Associated Press writers Andrew DeMillo in Bossier City, La., and Kasie Hunt and Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)