Mitt Romney won Puerto Rico's primary on Sunday, handily turning back a challenge from Rick Santorum in an active and acrimonious campaign for the U.S. territory, according to CNN projections.
With more than 80 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 83 percent of the vote to Santorum's 8 percent. Newt Gingrich had 2 percent and Ron Paul had 1 percent.
"Pretty darn good news; that's very exciting," Romney said while campaigning on Sunday night in Illinois.
Romney had previously won contests in other territories -- Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands -- that awarded him a total of 25 delegates. He had the backing of Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño.
Puerto Rico's race this year took on more significance than usual -- in 2008, just 208 people participated in its GOP caucus -- because of the ongoing delegate battle among Romney and rivals, all of whom are hoping he can be denied the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination and thus force a brokered convention. Entering Sunday, he had 495 to Santorum's 252, Gingrich's 131 and Paul's 48, according to The Associated Press.
Winning more than 50 percent of Puerto Rico's vote would give Romney all 20 delegates at stake.
Santorum touched off a controversy when he said last week that English should be the principal language in Puerto Rico before it could gain statehood. Puerto Ricans, who recognize both English and Spanish as their official languages, are scheduled to vote in November on a referendum to decide whether they want to pursue statehood or remain a self-governing U.S. commonwealth.
Romney's campaign took the opposite tack, saying the former Massachusetts governor had no intention of making such a requirement. Romney had said at a CNN debate earlier this year he supported making English the official language of the U.S. government, leading Santorum's campaign to accuse their rival of flip-flopping.
But the Romney campaign contended that its position was consistent, because English has been an official language of Puerto Rico for more than a century. "This should have no impact on Puerto Rico's statehood effort," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Sarah Boxer contributed