Romney heads into Illinois primary with momentum

(CBS News) CHICAGO - There are 54 delegates at stake in Tuesday's GOP primary, the latest contest on the road to the Republican presidential nomination.

Mitt Romney is expected to do well, and it will be interesting to see by just how much.

For now, the back-and-forth between Romney and Rick Santorum continues, notably with a stumble by Santorum making news leading up to this crucial vote.

Rick Santorum was saying his campaign is about the big picture - but it didn't come out that way.

"We need a candidate who's going to be a fighter for freedom," Santorum said. "Who's going to get up and make that the central theme in this race, because it is the central theme in this race. I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. Doesn't matter to me."

Complete coverage: Election 2012

For Romney, that was like shooting fish in a barrel.

"One of the people who is running also for the Republican nomination today said that he doesn't care about the unemployment rate, that doesn't bother him," Romney remarked. "I do care about the unemployment rate. It does bother me."

In a grueling political campaign, in which candidates are constantly on the road and always sleep-deprived, the words don't always come out right. Santorum later tried to explain what he meant.

"I want the unemployment rate to go down," he said, "but I'm saying my candidacy doesn't hinge on whether the unemployment rate goes up and down; our candidacy's about something that transcends that."

Before he takes another shot, Romney might want to remember a few missteps he's taken -- such as when he was talking about being able to dump your health insurance provider -- and it came out wrong. "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," he said at the time.

Romney got a lot of grief for that comment from the media and his Republican rivals, and he, too, said he didn't mean it that way.

Now, in Illinois, the race is down to two, and a new poll from ARG has Romney in the lead by 14 points, as the candidates turn their focus away from social issues and back to the economy.

Santorum jabbed at Romney when he asked a crowd, "Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as the president of the United States? Do you think that's the kind of experience that we need?"

Monday night, Santorum continued to try to recover from his stumble, telling a group of voters he doesn't read from teleprompters or notes someone else has written for him, and when you do that, you're bound to make some mistakes. But he said he still thought it was more important to speak candidly so the voters know who you are.

To see Jan Crawford's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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