(CHICAGO) — The fact that Mitt Romney is expected to win Illinois’ primary Tuesday night shouldn’t come as much of a shock. Not only has he drastically outspent his main GOP rival Rick Santorum, but the demographic make-up of the state is tailor-made for the former Massachusetts governor.
More than 60 percent of the vote is expected to come from the Chicago-area suburbs, while a much smaller portion of the vote comes from rural downstate.
Suburban voters are typically less ideological and focused more on pocket book issues than social issues, something that should prove right up Romney’s alley.
But a drive through suburban Chicago found pockets of deep Santorum enthusiasm and underlying concern about Romney’s inability to connect with voters.
Romney supporter state Rep. David Harris, who represents the Cook County suburb of Mt. Prospect, worries that Romney still hasn’t been able to connect with skeptical conservative Republicans.
“I think Mitt Romney is just as conservative as Ronald Reagan — when Reagan said something, you kind of felt it’s coming from his soul. You just know that’s the way the guy feels,” said Harris, whose office displays photos of his days as a Reagan campaign aide. “And while I believe that Mitt Romney is just as conservative and feels those same things, it just doesn’t come across or get conveyed the same way.”
Moreover, Harris sees an enthusiasm gap in the suburbs that could hurt Romney.
“This is a very quiet election,” he said. “The more quiet the election, the more committed type of person comes out. Perhaps Sen. Santorum’s folks are a little bit more committed, so I think you’ll see a good turnout for him. I think Gov. Romney will win, but the percentage of victory might not be as big as it otherwise might have been.”
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran is one of those enthusiastic Santorum supporters who should worry the Romney camp. At a local tavern in Long Grove, Curran, a former Democrat, denounced Romney as out of touch or, as he put it, “off in la-la-land.”
“I think Romney travels in circles of only the uber-rich and as a result he has a hard time connecting with large blocks of America — certainly the middle class, which is very much overlooked right now,” Curran said. “Santorum is being outspent 10-1, he is being destroyed in misleading ads, but he’s still there. Why? Because when people meet him, they see he’s the real deal, his authenticity.”
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