- Associated Press - Monday, March 19, 2012

VERNON HILLS, Ill. — Mitt Romney’s increasingly confident campaign is intensifying calls — publicly and privately — for his Republican opponents to concede defeat in the presidential nomination battle, even before Illinois voters have their say Tuesday in the campaign’s next big contest.

Mr. Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean island’s delegates. Mr. Romney has collected more delegates than his opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by Mr. Santorum’s shoestring operation.

Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, declared Sunday night in suburban Illinois that the time has come for her husband’s rivals to quit the race.

“We need to send a message that it’s time to coalesce,” she said, her husband at her side. “It’s time to get behind one candidate and get the job done so we can move on to the next challenge, bringing us one step closer to defeating Barack Obama.”

Brushing aside skepticism from the party’s right flank, Romney aides have been emphasizing their overwhelming mathematical advantage in the race to 1,144 delegates — the number needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination and face President Obama in the fall.

Mr. Santorum has all but conceded he cannot earn enough delegates to win, but claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Mr. Romney is a weak front-runner.

He said Monday that he’ll “go out and compete in every state, calling Illinois a “two-person race.”

“What I’ve said is, I think it’s going to be very difficult as this goes on for anybody to get that magic number” to clinch the nomination, Mr. Santorum said in an interview on CBS’s “This Morning.”

He called Mr. Romney a “big-government heavyweight,” responding on MSNBC Monday to the Massachusetts governor’s assertion that he couldn’t match up on economic expertise. Mr. Santorum told CBS he thinks the chances of a brokered GOP convention in August “are increasing.”

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