Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has regained momentum in the presidential race following wins this week.
The former Massachusetts governor enjoyed a double-digit win in Illinois on Tuesday over Rick Santorum, the opponent who’s given him the most competition in the GOP primary.
Romney captured 46.7 percent of the vote while the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania won 35 percent. Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in a distant third with 9.3 percent and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich won 8 percent.
In his victory speech, Romney celebrated his win and took shots at the Obama administration for what he said were economic policies that weren’t working.
“We began this movement on a small farm in New Hampshire on a sunny June day, surrounded by a small group of friends, family and supporters,” Romney said. “We shared a conviction that the America we loved was in trouble and adrift without strong leadership. Three years of Barack Obama had brought us fewer jobs and shrinking paychecks, but many of us believed we were in danger of losing something more than the value of homes and 401(k)s.”
Romney faulted the administration for the rising cost of gas and said regulations put in place by the administration — as well as the health care reform and financial reform laws passed in the last Congress — have been impeding economic growth. The White House has denied these claims.
Although he didn’t mention them during his speech, Romney has staked out anti-gay positions in his campaign. He’s signed a pledge from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage that commits him to back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country, defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and establish a commission on “religious liberty” to investigate alleged harassment of opponents of same-sex marriage.
Still, although he backs a Federal Marriage Amendment, Romney expressed doubt that there’s any interest in Congress to pass the measure. Unlike his Republican competitors, Romney said he has no plans to return to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, expressed disappointment that Romney won in his state after staking out these anti-gay positions.
“Mitt Romney’s increasingly conservative positions on issues of LGBT equality are very alarming,” Cherkasov said. “Time and time again on the campaign trail, he has used his bully pulpit to marginalize LGBT people and throw the LGBT community under the bus in order to pander to the extreme right.”
Romney’s win in Illinois builds off a previous win the candidate enjoyed Sunday in Puerto Rico. The candidate has amassed more delegates than any of the other GOP contenders combined. According to the Associated Press, Romney has 563 delegates while Santorum has 263, Gingrich has 135 and Paul has 50.
Political observers say Romney’s recent wins and standing put him once again in good position to claim the Republican nomination.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, said the wins show that Romney will become the standard-bearer for Republicans heading into the general election. LaSalvia has personally endorsed Romney in the race.
“It’s becoming more and more clear that Gov. Romney will be the Republican nominee,” LaSalvia said. “It’s hard to see a path forward for anyone else in the race, and I’m sure that the other campaigns are having serious internal conversations about how much longer they can go on.”
Sean Theriault, who’s gay and a political scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, said Romney once again has reclaimed his status as front-runner among the Republican candidates.
“Romney’s win tonight makes him, once again, the formidable front runner,” Theriault said. “Although Santorum will continue to run a spirited campaign, Romney keeps racking up the necessary delegates he needs to eventually get the nomination.”
The next contest is set to take place Saturday in Louisiana. Despite Romney’s momentum, Santorum seems poised to win the state. A poll published late Tuesday by MagellanStrategies BR in Louisiana found that Santorum leads with 37 percent, followed by Romney at 24 percent.