Although President Barack Obama's home state is expected to support him in 2012 as it did in 2008, GOP hopefuls are zeroing in on the blue state's substantial conservative faction downstate.
Rick Santorum's Illinois volunteers are mounting a particularly aggressive campaign as the March 20 primaries approach.
Santorum's campaign told NBC Chicago that the candidate has volunteers placed in 14 of the states 18 districts, manning phone lines and planting yard signs in Republican-leaning districts while avoiding the Democratic stronghold of Chicago.
But Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady told WJBC he thinks Mitt Romney has the midwestern state locked down and plans to spend election night in the Chicago area.
“(Santorum) has no infrastructure, he’s got really no money and I think his message is wrong for us to beat Barack Obama and I think people are figuring that out,” Brady told the central Illinois radio station.
The push from Santorum's camp may be compensating for his ballot troubles in Illinois. The presidential hopeful qualified for the statewide ballot, but failed to file a full slate of delegates for the primary, meaning he can win, at most, 44 of the state's available delegates, but will be exempt from the fight for the remaining ten, according to The Hill.
With 54 delegates at stake and the emotional significance of battling in President Obama's home state, pundits and analysts predict the Illinois will host a more contentious standoff than in previous years. New York Times reporter Nate Silver called it "the perfect battle between the Romney coalition in the Chicago suburbs and the Santorum coalition downstate."
Watch for more on Illinois' growing importance in the GOP race:
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