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Chicagoland Romney Supporters Gather to Track Election Results

While much of the nation paid only passing attention to the Feb. 7 caucus and primary returns from Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, a group of Chicagoland supporters of former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.), led by State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, gathered at a downtown Chicago bar to watch the returns come in on Fox News.

Rutherford, who is also Romney’s Illinois campaign chairman, stayed only briefly at the Emerald Loop Bar and Grill to kick off the event, reminding the crowd that none of the three contests were binding votes, and that the delegate count in the race for the nomination would not be changed regardless of the evening’s results.

“I didn’t think he’d win Minnesota or Missouri,” Dan Dunham, 24, a DePaul University senior said of Romney. Dunham said he would be fine with either Romney or former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as the nominee for president.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“I’m more with Santorum on the social issues, but I’m totally with Romney on the business stuff, so I’ll be happy to support him if he’s the nominee,” Dunham said, noting that his first choice would have been Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), who declined to run for president but has endorsed Romney.

The small event had more of an air of a cocktail reception than a political rally or fundraiser. The mix of guests ranged from 20-something college students to people in their 40s and 50s.

This was the second such gathering for Illinois’ Romney supporters, the first being the night of the New Hampshire primaries, which Romney won by a definitive margin.

“I love Mitt,” said Ginny Benson, 42, of Norwood Park. “I’ve heard them all speak at some point or another and I just think he’s the best one to beat Obama.”

As results for Missouri and Minnesota rolled across the bottom of the TV screen, showing that Romney had lost both contests to Santorum by decisive margins, the crowd seemed disappointed, but not very surprised.

“I saw on the news that Romney’s people were sort of downplaying tonight; I guess this is why,” Dunham said.

Romney came in a distant second place to Santorum in Missouri, while coming in third place in Minnesota, behind Santorum and Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas).

“I hope that changes before the end of the night,” Benson said of the Minnesota returns. “Third place really doesn’t look good.”

The rankings didn’t change, however, and Colorado’s early returns didn’t look good for Romney, either. Early numbers put him in third place behind Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

“I’m impressed with Santorum,” Dunham said following the senator’s victory speech. “If it’s him versus Romney, this will be a much happier race for me.” Dunham noted that he didn’t care for Gingrich very much.

“With Newt, I’d vote for him if I had to,” Dunham said. “I mean, he’s better than the president, but we should set the bar a little higher.”

After Santorum’s speech finished, people began to talk about calling it a night. Romney didn’t take his stage in Denver until about 10:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, by which point some guests at the Chicago reception had left.

After Fox News cut away from an interview with Santorum to televise Romney’s speech, a hush came over the crowd to listen to their candidate speak.

“This was a nice event, but a little bit of a let-down after the New Hampshire party,” said Terry O’Neill, 21, who said that the gathering was more upbeat when Romney won. “People are already leaving, but maybe it would have been different if Colorado had been counted first.”

But that wasn’t the case. By morning it was finalized that Santorum had swept the night’s contests by also taking Colorado by 5 percentage points over Romney.

Aside from Romney’s speech, the only other time people at the reception turned to the TV en masse was to watch Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren interview Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is also a Romney supporter. Some in the crowd even cheered for the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

“Who doesn’t like McCain, I mean really?” Dunham asked rhetorically. There were scattered claps when McCain told Van Susteren in a very certain tone that a President Romney would do away with earmark spending, while Santorum would not.

The following week, Romney won the Maine caucuses and the annual straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. These two victories left some in the media questioning whether or not Santorum’s victories gave him a momentum boost.

“I feel like people forget that there really are Republicans in Chicago,” Benson said. “All over Illinois, really. And we’ll vote on election day, like everyone else, and remind people that we don’t support this president’s policies.”


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