Battlefield: Illinois

The more I look at the primary calendar, the more I wonder whether Illinois, with its March 20 primary, will be the next everybody-into-the-pool chance to scramble the race. Arguments for:

- There’s nowhere else to go very soon after Alabama and Mississippi vote next week. If Rick Santorum is hammering Missouri again in advance of their March 17 caucuses – which actually assigns delegates – he can easily jaunt over to downstate. Town hall wraps up early in Hannibal? Head on over to Quincy. And the flight from St. Louis to Chicago lasts  around 45 minutes. If anyone gets particularly antsy in Illinois, he’s next to Wisconsin, which has the next Midwestern primary on April 3.

- Illinois doesn’t have party registration. What’s that, Democrat who wants to vote for Santorum to screw up things for Romney? Come on down and cast your first and only Republican ballot.

- Everybody can win delegates, in theory. Illinois will not assign any delegates statewide; they’ll honor the district-by-district votes for delegate slates.

Arguments against:

- Illinois is possibly the most promising Romney state in the Midwest. One example: In Ohio this year, 47 percent of Republican voters said they were born-again Christians. Rick Santorum won them by 17 points. In 2008, only 41 percent of Illinois Republicans said they were born-again Christians, and that was in a year when vastly more swing voters were going to the Democratic primary. Another example: In 2008, only 14 percent of the Illinois vote came from the rural southern part of the state. In Ohio this week, 37 percent of the vote came from less-urban parts of Ohio.

- Santorum’s wan organizing skills left him without delegate slates in the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 13th districts. The 13th is a problem – it’s reliably conservative, sprawling over small central Illinois towns.

So: I’m stumped. You can imagine Santorum shocking everyone, again, with Kansas and Missouri caucus wins and narrow deep south wins. He comes into Illinois as Gingrich fades away. He makes a fight out of it. Or you can imagine Romney grabbing most of Illinois’$2 69 delegates and using them to end the month impossibly far ahead.