Romney wins Puerto Rico GOP primary

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won a crushing victory in Puerto Rico's primary contest on Sunday.

CNN and the Associated Press both projected Romney as the winner shortly before 7 p.m., three hours after polls closed in the island territory. 

With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 83 percent of the vote followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 8 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) had 2 percent of the votes cast, followed by Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) at 1 percent.

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Romney was seen as the leading candidate in the territory, as he had the endorsement of Gov. Luis Fortuño (R), who also campaigned with Romney late last week.

Puerto Rico has 20 delegates up for grabs, all of which go to Romney on passing the 50 percent threshold. The island only awards delegates proportionally if none of the candidates receive half of the vote.

Both Romney and Santorum visited the territory last week in an effort to win delegates in what could be a prolonged GOP nomination fight. 

Romney held two events on the island, including a rally on Saturday in Old San Juan, where he was joined by Mr. Fortuño, a prominent advocate of statehood for the territory. 

The win increases Romney's delegate count to more than 500, and he still has more than twice as many as Rick Santorum. 

The victory follows a difficult week where Romney failed to deliver a knock-out punch to his rivals in Southern primaries in Mississippi and Alabama. Those primaries were won by Rick Santorum who, while trailing Romney in national polls, fundraising and organization, has continued to win nominating contests, as he positions himself as the conservative alternative to the GOP frontrunner.

But Romney’s win in Puerto Rico gives him a small boost heading into next Tuesday’s pivotal Midwestern primary in Illinois, and Saturday’s Louisiana contest.

The resounding victory also keeps his island sweep alive. Romney has won contests in Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Hawaii. 

Santorum’s hopes for winning in Puerto Rico suffered a setback last week when he was caught in a controversy after saying that the territory must adopt English as its official language if it wants to become a state.

Both English and Spanish are official languages of the territory. The U.S. Constitution does not say that a state has to have English, or any other language, as its official language.

The former Pennsylvania senator received criticism from Del. Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico), who said his perspective on the issue was a "narrow and limiting view." 

Earlier in the day, Santorum criticized Romney on ABC's "This Week" by suggesting Romney had altered his position on that very issue and accusing him of appearing to drop his demand that Puerto Rico make English its official language as a condition of joining the U.S. as a state.

"This is hypocrisy of Mitt Romney to go and pander for votes," Santorum said. "To get 20 delegates, he's willing to say whatever he needs to say in order to get those votes. I'm hopeful the people of Puerto Rico will see through the charade of what Gov. Romney will do to get votes."

In 2008, Puerto Rico held a caucus, which was won by eventual GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

This story was updated on March 19 at 5:37 a.m.

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