Mitt Romney handily won the yesterday’s GOP presidential primary in Illinois, and older voters — as they have in so many of the contests so far — went with the winner.
Romney was widely expected to win Illinois, as it lacks the strong evangelical Christian base that’s favored Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in other states. And it was Romney’s first virtually one-on-one match-up with Santorum, who has cast himself as the true conservative alternative to the well-funded Romney.
Illinois’s older voters went strongly for Romney, according to exit polls. Among voters 65 and older, Romney took 49 percent of the vote, compared with 32 percent for Santorum, 11 percent for Gingrich, and 6 percent for Ron Paul. Gingrich and Paul, neither of whom has a regional advantage or other natural base in Illinois, barely campaigned in the state. With the exception of five states — Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee — Republican primary voters 65 and older have gone with the winner of the primary or caucus.
Judging from exit polls (which haven’t been conducted in all the GOP primary contests), voters in the 50-to-64 age bracket have a perfect pick record so far. In Illinois, 51 percent of voters aged 50-64 went for Romney, compared with 31 percent for Santorum, 9 percent for Paul, and 8 percent for Gingrich.
The numbers carry a particular punch, since the great plurality of GOP primary voters in Illinois — 39 percent — were aged 50-64. Another 24 percent were 65 or older, meaning that older voters overwhelmingly drove the results in Illinois.
Voters in the 50-to-64-year-old bracket are sure to be a prime target in the general election as well, with Congress debating changes in Medicare and other programs that would most directly affect people approaching retirement. — Susan Milligan