US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney looks set to increase his advantage over his Republican rivals with a win in the country’s fifth most populous state.
Republican presidential Front-runner Mitt Romney appeared to have widened his lead with a victory in the Illinois primary late on Tuesday, as polls showed he enjoyed a comfortable edge over his nearest rival, Rick Santorum.
Early exit polls from US broadcaster CNN showed Romney on 56 percent, with Santorum on 27 percent. Libertarian candidate Ron Paul and former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, who have both lagged behind in the race, were on 9 percent and 7 percent respectively.
An earlier survey by the research organization Public Policy Polling on Monday showed that Romney led the more conservative Santorum by 15 percentage points, while pollsters American Research Group poll put the lead at 14 points.
The four Republicans are competing to pick up the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the presidential nomination. The winner will be finally decided upon at the party convention in Tampa in August.
Romney had 522 delegates going into the Illinois vote, according to The Associated Press count. Santorum's count stood at 252, while Gingrich had 136 and Paul had 50.
There are 69 delegates at stake in Illinois, 54 of which were to be decided in Tuesday's voting.
The poll in Illinois follows an easy victory for Romney in Puerto Rico on Sunday. On Saturday, the primary race is to move on to Louisiana, where Santorum is expected to do well.
rc/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)