Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney swept to a big win in his party's primary in Puerto Rico yesterday, bolstering his position as front-runner in the race to determine who will face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
With 30 per cent of the ballots counted, Romney had about 83 per cent of the vote, according to Puerto Rico's electoral commission. Rick Santorum was in second place with just over 8 percent. Newt Gingrich was third with about 2 percent.
With more than a simple majority of the vote, Romney looked almost certain to win all 20 of the delegates up for grabs in a contest that focused largely on an upcoming referendum to decide whether Puerto Ricans want to pursue statehood or remain a self-governing US commonwealth.
In a posting on Twitter on Sunday night, Romney said he was "deeply grateful" to Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno and "the people of Puerto Rico for their support & help in winning today's primary."
Fortuno, a Romney ally, declared victory for Romney earlier last night, as official returns trickled in more than three hours after polls closed.
"Now is the time to unite in a single Republican Party and send a message to the entire nation that we are with Romney," Fortuno told reporters.
Romney has a big lead in support from party delegates, whose backing is needed to win the nomination. But he faces a growing challenge from Santorum in Illinois, which holds its primary contest on Tuesday.
The Illinois vote is the next big hurdle in the months-long fight to win the 1,144 delegates needed to seal the Republican nomination.