CHICAGO — Mitt Romney's perceived electability carried him to a major Illinois victory over Rick Santorum on Tuesday in the Republican race for the White House, though turnout was light despite the rarity of the state actually playing a key role in a presidential primary.
In most years, presidential nominations are settled long before the Illinois primary, but Santorum's recent string of victories elsewhere made the home state of President Barack Obama relevant in the GOP contest.
The lack of statewide races beyond the presidential contest likely was partly to blame for the low turnout. It was the first Illinois primary since 2000 that didn't include a race for U.S. Senate or governor.
All but the most conservative Republicans backed Romney over Santorum, exit polling found.
The former Massachusetts governor was helped by the perception that he is more likely to defeat Obama this fall. Six in 10 voters said Romney had the best chance against Obama in November; only about one in 5 said so of Santorum, according to preliminary results of an exit poll conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press.
Catherine Lopez, a homemaker from the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, was among those concluding Romney would be the best Republican to challenge Obama.
"OK, maybe he's not charismatic," Lopez said of Romney. "But we've had enough charisma with Obama. We need competence."