After losing both the high profile Mississippi and Alabama primaries last week, Mitt Romney was trying hard to secure a much-needed victory in the Illinois primary Tuesday to regain crucial momentum.
Romney consequently hit the campaign trail hard Monday, spending the day campaigning in three different parts of the state and trying to spark enthusiasm among Illinois Republicans who have recently voiced some dissatisfaction with their choice of candidates.
The former Massachusetts governor is currently leading challenger Rick Santorum 45 percent to 30 percent in Illinois, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday. Twelve percent of respondents said they were for Newt Gingrich, and 10 percent for Ron Paul.
In a midday speech at the University of Chicago, Romney spoke of his economic vision for the future, trying to turn the campaign conversation to policy rather than politics. Santorum, Romney's top challenger, was not mentioned once in the speech. Romney was instead targeting President Barack Obama for criticism.
"For the last three years the president has expanded government instead of empowering the American people," Romney said to the crowd of students and supporters on the campus.
"He's put us deeper in debt, he slowed the recovery, and he's harmed the economy. And I believe he has attacked the cornerstone of American prosperity: economic freedom," Romney continued, and put forth his own economic plan based on less taxation and governmental regulation.
By returning to focus on President Obama rather than his Republican opponents, Romney appeared confident of an Illinois victory and what would lie ahead in a November general election.
However, although Romney himself declined to mention Santorum Monday, Romney's campaign remained busy criticizing the former Pennsylvania senator in ads and press releases, blasting Santorum as an "economic lightweight."
Romney's loss to Santorum in the Deep South primaries last week was largely due to the states' large population of extremely conservative voters. Such voters -- particularly social conservatives and Christian evangelicals -- often distrust Romney's history of pro-choice positions and healthcare mandates, and thus overwhelmingly prefer Santorum.
Romney has traditionally done well in urban areas, where Republican moderates and independents are in the majority. In Illinois, Romney is set to post a strong showing in Chicago and city suburbs Tuesday, while Santorum conversely is expected to do well in the largely rural and conservative counties in the southern part of the state.
However, even if Santorum were to recover from recent poll trends favoring Romney by double-digit margins, the maximum amount of delegates he could win would only be 44 of Illinois' 54 delegates, as he failed to file slates in four Illinois congressional districts due to organizational issues.
Santorum is still hoping to somehow manage another come-from-behind victory Tuesday, as a win in Illinois would be a devastating blow for Romney, who has faced increasing questions of his electability.
Romney's disappointing third place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi last week were preceded by narrow wins in the crucial states of Ohio and Michigan -- lackluster performances that have raised the concerns of some Republican supporters.
However, Romney was able to slightly recover this weekend by posting an overwhelming victory in the Puerto Rico Primary Sunday, capturing 83 percent of the vote. The Romney campaign hopes to continue its streak by delivering a solid Illinois win and regaining momentum before moving on to the next GOP battleground -- Louisiana -- on Saturday .
The arch-conservative state in the Deep South could potentially pose the same problems for Romney as in Mississippi and Alabama.
According to the latest poll taken March 12 by the Louisiana TV station WWL-TV, Santorum currently leads Romney 25 percent to 21 percent.