US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney scored a resounding win in Puerto Rico’s Republican primary, gaining momentum in a usually overlooked race with newfound significance in the hotly contested White House race.
With the final tally in late on Sunday, the former Massachusetts governor won more than 83.4 percent of the vote, according to the State Elections Commission in the US territory.
His chief rival, former US senator Rick Santorum, stood a distant second with 7.7 percent. Former US House speaker Newt Gingrich had 2 percent, just ahead of US Representative Ron Paul’s 1.1 percent.
Romney claimed victory and said he believed Puerto Ricans wanted a president with experience creating jobs.
“With a population larger than 22 states, this island contributes in so many ways to the vitality of our country,” he said in a statement. “Working to advance the fortunes of this island, and to better the lives of everyone living here, will be an important goal of my presidency.”
The island off the US mainland has only 20 delegates at stake for the Republican National Convention in August, but has been courted vigorously by the Republican contenders in part because the broader US Hispanic vote is seen as crucial to the election outcome.
Given the margin of Romney’s victory, he will receive all the delegates. The four remaining Republican contenders are trying to reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates to lock up the nomination.
Romney, who was in Puerto Rico early on Saturday and visited a local fruit market, told reporters he was “cautiously optimistic” for a strong showing. He had the endorsement of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno, who shepherded him through two days of campaign events.
The vote comes two days before tomorrow’s primary in Obama’s adopted state of Illinois, seen as a major election prize for whomever prevails there.
Using the same strategy he has plied elsewhere, Santorum had hoped to deprive Romney of that outright win by turning out Christian and evangelical supporters in Puerto Rico.
However, he found himself in hot water last week by suggesting that Puerto Rico would need to make English its official language before it could become the 51st US state.