- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2012

VERNON HILLS, Ill. — After trading barbs with Rick Santorum on the airwaves Sunday, Mitt Romney got in the last word with a lopsided victory in Puerto Rico’s Republican presidential primary, taking all 20 of the territory’s pledged Republican delegates and extending his lead in the march toward the nomination.

Puerto Rican election officials called the race early Sunday evening, with Mr. Romney receiving more than 80 percent of the vote.

Even before the results were announced, the focus of the Republican campaign already had shifted to Tuesday’s primary in President Obama’s home state of Illinois, where Mr. Romney touted his U.S. territory win as proof that his message is resonating with Hispanic voters — a key voting bloc in the presidential election.

“People who don’t think that Latinos will vote for a Republican, need to take a look at Puerto Rico and see there that conservative principles and Latino voters go together,” he told a crowd gathered here in a community center gymnasium for a town-hall event. “Hispanic voters are going to vote for Republicans if we stand for something: conservative principles that bring growth and good jobs and rising home values.”

“That is how we are going to win. We’re going to get Latino voters to help us out,” he said.

The comments came toward the tail end of a day that saw Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum, the two Republican front-runners, continue to rip each other apart on the television talk-show circuit and on the campaign trail.

Mr. Romney, looking to cement his lead in the polls here, made three campaign stops in Illinois, hammering on the message that his business experience makes him the party’s “best and perhaps the only chance” to recapture to the White House.

He dismissed both Mr. Santorum and President Obama as “economic lightweights.”

“I don’t think we are going to replace an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight,” Mr. Romney told a crowd at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Rockford. “My career was spent in the economy. I didn’t learn about the economy just reading about it or hearing about it at the faculty lounge at Harvard or debating it in Congress.”

“To beat Barack Obama,” he said, “it is going to take someone who understands the economy within his bones, and I do — and I will beat him with that understanding.”

Mr. Santorum, who is expected back in Illinois on Monday for a final blitz ahead of Tuesday’s primary, spent Sunday campaigning in Louisiana and making the rounds on the television talk-show circuit, where he trained his fire on Mr. Romney.

“Running a business is not the same as being president of the United States,” Mr. Santorum said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“If Gov. Romney thinks he is the CEO of America and can run and operate the country, he doesn’t understand what conservatives want,” Mr. Santorum said. “We don’t want someone in Washington, D.C., to manage the economy. We want to get Washington out of our lives, to reduce these mandates, get rid of things like Romneycare at the federal level, which we call Obamacare.”

The former senator from Pennsylvania said a Romney candidacy would undermine Republicans on the issues that helped propel them into power in 2010.

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