Supporters wait to meet Mitt Romney in Kirkwood, Mo. Missouri votes Saturday,… (Whitney Curtis / Getty Images )
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney might not be campaigning in Illinois until Monday, but he's poised to saturate the state's airwaves during the final week before the Illinois primary.
The contender and a political action committee backing his candidacy have poured another $1.35 million into Chicago's TV ad market, sources familiar with the buy said Tuesday.
All told, the former Massachusetts governor and his allies have spent $2.26 million on television commercials in Illinois, with more than $1.7 million of that coming from the Restore Our Future "super PAC."
Restore Our Future is allowed to take and spend unlimited amounts of money to directly advance a candidate. Romney's super PAC has spent millions in earlier primary and caucus states to run negative ads against former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The latest buy, for ads beginning Wednesday through the Illinois primary next Tuesday, involves only the Chicago broadcast market. It includes $800,000 from Restore Our Future and another $550,000 from Romney's campaign, said sources familiar with TV ad buys who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The big spending follows a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll published last weekend that found Romney with only a narrow lead over Santorum. Romney's 35% to 31% advantage was within the poll's 4-percentage-point margin of error.
Romney aides, including Illinois chairman and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, said as of now there were no plans for Romney to visit the state in advance of a planned trip on Monday.
"This isn't just going to be an air game, it's going to be a good ground game," Rutherford told reporters on a conference call during which Illinois Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno endorsed Romney, though at one point she flubbed his name and called him "Mittney."
So far, records show none of the other candidates or their allied super PACs have purchased television time in the state.
Appearing by phone Tuesday afternoon on the radio station WLS 890-AM, Romney said he expected that voters would choose him for his private sector experience. Romney said picking one of his Republican rivals would just be sending "the same people to Washington and put them in different chairs."
"I do believe that I'll become the nominee," Romney said. "My delegate lead is substantial. I think at some point other candidates will realize that I will become the nominee and hopefully we'll be able to rally around together and make sure we can present a strong and untied front to replace President Obama."
The Illinois campaign is set to heat up rapidly on Wednesday, when Gingrich plans to visit the suburbs and Rutherford and former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert launch a downstate fly-around to push the election of Romney-backed national nominating delegates. The actual presidential primary vote is a beauty contest, with the real prize being the 54 pledged delegate candidates that are up for grabs.
Additionally, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is set to visit the University of Illinois on Wednesday night for a rally and town hall event that includes Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson. Johnson is one of four members of Congress who have endorsed Paul's presidential candidacy.
Mitt Romney already spending big ahead of Illinois primary