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The Brief: March 20, 2012

Today's Illinois primary may determine whether Texans get a say in the presidential primary process.

Rick Santorum, left, shakes hands with Republican Mitt Romney at the CNN Charleston debates on January 19, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

Today's Illinois primary may determine whether Texans get a say in the presidential primary process.

Another impressive performance by Rick Santorum — who swept the Alabama and Mississippi primaries last week — could further embolden his effort to portray himself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

And call it more wishful thinking, but Texas, which votes May 29 and awards 155 delegates, could figure prominently in the primary process if the race remains competitive until then.

But Illinois also offers Romney his best shot yet at vanquishing Santorum and regaining the momentum he has lost since Santorum's strong showings in the South and parts of the Midwest have turned the race into a state-by-state battle for delegates. Though Romney aides have said they don't expect him to amass 1,144 delegates — the number a candidate needs to claim the nomination — for another two months, Illinois' 69 delegates could help put the math even more squarely on his side.

And the odds, as The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight reports, now favor Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has outspent Santorum 6 to 1 in the state. And though a Chicago Tribune poll last week showed Santorum just 4 points behind Romney, new polling this weekend showed Santorum down by double digits.

FiveThirtyEight also projects that Santorum stands only a 3 percent chance of winning the state, and will likely win no more than a third of the delegates up for grabs today.

Romney on Monday in Chicago sought to distance himself from his Republican rivals, delivering an economic speech in which he bypassed criticizing Santorum and instead aimed his barbs at President Barack Obama.

Culled:

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett today will attend a White House conference on bullying at the University of Texas at Arlington. The conference will center on bullying and violence against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, The Dallas Morning News reports.
  • The Austin American-Statesman reports today on the backlash over education cuts and standardized testing that could spur heavy turnover in the Legislature this fall. One group, the Texas Parent Political Action Committee, plans to help candidates it considers pro-education, but fear of alienating anti-government conservatives could keep the organization from finding the type of success a similar pro-education strategy achieved in 2006.
  • Union membership in Texas fell slightly to 5.2 percent last year, the Houston Chronicle reports, likely the result of economic woes in unionized industries. Nationally, 11.8 percent of workers belonged to a union in 2011, down slightly from 11.9 percent the year before.

"There is no place for such inappropriate comments which do nothing to advance the important discussion about issues surrounding the Women's Health Program. It's clear many of these individuals are basing their remarks on something other than the facts."Rick Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier to The Dallas Morning News on the women who bombarded Perry's Facebook page on Monday over women's health cuts

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