Poll: Romney holds a slight lead in Illinois

Mitt Romney leads the GOP field in Illinois, according to a Fox Chicago News-We Ask America poll released Friday.

Romney is at 37 percent, followed by Rick Santorum at 31 percent, Newt Gingrich at 14 percent and Ron Paul at 8 percent.

The Illinois primary will be held next Tuesday, and with 69 delegates at stake is the biggest primary until New York in late April.

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Romney has massively outspent his opponents in Illinois. The Romney campaign and associated super-PAC have purchased $3.4 million in advertising in the state, compared to Santorum and his related super-PAC’s $310,000 worth of ad buys.

But Romney’s advantage in money and infrastructure extends beyond the airwaves — the Santorum campaign failed to file a full slate of delegates in four districts, meaning he could win the popular votes there and still lose the delegate count.

The Midwest primaries have produced mixed results so far, with Romney narrowly taking Ohio and his home state of Michigan, while Santorum notched victories in Missouri, Kansas and Minnesota. Romney was originally declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses, although Santorum prevailed in the final tally by 34 votes.

Illinois has a large population of wealthy, well-educated voters concentrated in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, which should turn out strongly for Romney. But downstate Illinois is more rural, and the Santorum campaign hopes to turn out the reliably conservative primary voters in that part of the state.

While Romney maintains a healthy lead in the delegate count, he badly needs a victory to reclaim the narrative that he’s the most electable candidate and the party’s inevitable nominee.

On Tuesday, the Romney campaign seemed to think it was poised to pull out at least one victory in the Deep South, and raised expectations leading into the primaries. Santorum ended up winning both Mississippi and Alabama, while Romney finished third in both.

The Fox Chicago News-We Ask America survey was taken on March 14 and has a 2.2 percent margin of error.