As the pressure mounts for an Illinois primary win, GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney made an early morning stop in Rosemont Friday, revising earlier plans to begin campaigning in the state the day before Tuesday's primary election.
Flanked by state treasurer and Illinois campaign chair Dan Rutherford and Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens, Romney arrived to greet supporters at Pancakes Eggcetera on Higgins Road, a quick stop before his flight to Puerto Rico, where he spent the rest of the day campaigning before the primary there on Sunday.
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"This game is all about delegates going to Tampa," Rutherford said, referring to the August Republican National Convention and reminding the group the winner needs 1,144 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination.
Romney praised Rutherford for "energy and passion," calling it the "reason we're going to win Illinois on Tuesday."
With a model train outfitted with "Romney" signs circulating above his head, the former Massachusetts governor only mentioned one opponent -- Democratic President Barack Obama -- during his 10-minute speech, but not his closest rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Both were in town Friday, Obama for a series of fundraisers in Chicago and Santorum campaigning in Arlington Heights with appearances at John Hersey High School and the Christian Liberty Academy.
Romney faces a greater fight for the 54 directly elected delegates in Illinois than might have been necessary. Illinois campaign leaders decided to withdraw challenges of Santorum's nominating petitions for delegates, which Rutherford described as "woefully short" of the 600 required signatures needed in 10 of the state's 18 congressional districts. The campaign did not file for any delegates to be on the ballot in four districts.
Romney cut at the president's push for alternative energy and the nation's high unemployment figure, as well as the increase in the nation's deficit.
Romney also criticized Obama for what he called "crony capitalism" -- accusing him of investing in those who help his campaign instead of "entrepreneurs and innovators coming up with new ideas."
"This is an election about the soul of America," Romney said. "Is government going to be dominated by government and by bureaucrats who think they know better than people pursuing their dreams? Or are we going to remain the nation of the free, the brave, the hope of the earth?"
He called himself an "economic heavyweight" that knows how the economy works.
Several suburban resident gladly took the early wake up call to have the chance to rub elbows with Romney.
Stevenson High School Junior Ehlana Driscoll picked up father Jim from the airport before driving to the restaurant. While she's not able to vote yet, she plans to volunteer for the Romney campaign over the summer if he becomes the GOP nominee.
Kim Pesavento of Barrington said she's "hopeful" Romney will clinch Illinois. A longtime supporter, she believes he has the best chance of winning the general election.
"This is the time we're going to decide who we're going to put up against President Obama," Romney said. "And we've got to put up someone who can beat him."
Some opponents also turned out. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, surrounded by Planned Parenthood advocates, held a news conference outside the restaurant criticizing Romney for his stance on that organization.
At the moment, Romney has 438 delegates, compared to Santorum's 239. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of Georgia, has 139.