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Romney Wins Illinois, Santorum Focuses on South


(L-R) Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum shakes hands with a young supporter in Dixon, Illinois on March 20, 2012; Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campai

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has increased his lead in the race for the party nomination, while his closest rival focuses on an upcoming contest in the conservative South, where Romney has struggled to win support.

Romney scored a convincing victory Tuesday in the Republican primary in the state of Illinois. With nearly all voting counted, Romney won 47 percent of the vote, well ahead of former U.S. senator Rick Santorum's 35 percent. Romney received another boost in the wake of the Illinois victory with the endorsement of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who issued a statement saying it was time Republicans unite behind Romney as their nominee.

Santorum is campaigning Wednesday in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana, which holds its primary Saturday. Santorum has done well in the South and is expected to win the Louisiana contest.

Romney has struggled to win over religious conservatives, who have rallied behind Santorum. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is courting voters Wednesday in Maryland, which votes in early April.

Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, who trails Romney and Santorum in the delegate count, has resisted calls to drop out and allow Santorum to be the sole conservative to take on Romney. He is also focusing his efforts Wednesday on Louisiana.

In a victory speech Tuesday in Chicago, President Barack Obama's hometown, Romney called for new leadership in the White House.

“Three years of Barack Obama have brought us fewer jobs and shrinking paychecks, but many of us believed we were in danger of losing something even more than the value of our homes and our 401ks (retirement funds), after years of too many apologies and not enough jobs, historic drops in income and historic highs in gas prices. A president who doesn't hesitate to use all the means necessary to force through Obamacare (health care reform) on the American public, but leads from behind in the world. It's time to say these words, this word, enough, we've had enough.”

At a rally in his home state of Pennsylvania, Santorum congratulated Romney, but vowed to stay in the race.

“I've said throughout the course of this campaign, that while other issues are certainly important — the economy, joblessness, national security concerns, the family, the issue of life, all of these issues are important. But the foundational issue in this race, the one that is the cause of the other maladies that we are feeling, whether it's in the economy, whether it's in the budget crisis that we're dealing with, it all boils down to one word, and that's what's at stake in this election, and it's right behind me on that banner, and that's the word freedom.”

Other upcoming contests include votes in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

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