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Expect the unexpected in rest of presidential race

Mitt Romney’s healthy victory margin in Illinois' primary still needs to be affirmed by a corresponding win in the separate delegate contest. We will not have all those results until Wednesday. However, Romney has – again – scored a Big win when he had to.

What we also know is that – as in many other GOP contests this winter – turnout was down as compared to 2008. This is the single biggest aspect of the Republican race so far: GOP voters are markedly unenthused by the Republican candidates and instead are choosing not to vote.

The implications for November are worrisome. Do these non-voters vote for the GOP nominee – even if they aren’t turned on by him – in order to defeat President Obama? Or do they stay home then, too?

Keep in mind that if just 5 percent of the GOP base decides to sit it out in November, that alone could spell the difference in not only the presidential race but also in crucial races in the Senate, where the Republicans are trying to regain a majority, and in the GOP’s attempt to keep control of the House.

It is clear that the internecine warfare has hurt the GOP – both as a national brand and as an identifying label for the ultimate Republican nominee. Recent polling now shows a 10 percent deficit for a “Republican” versus a “Democrat.”

What does Illinois mean in the overall scope of the GOP race?

It means that Romney won a primary he needed to win – as usual – and it also means that Santorum seems to always fall short when he has a golden opportunity to take that last step from challenger to front-runner. He has had two previous similar opportunities – Michigan and Ohio – and couldn’t elevate his game in either instance.

Louisiana on Saturday now becomes a must-win for Santorum – and a similarly golden opportunity for Romney to upset Santorum in an “away game.”

Illinois also means that when Newt Gingrich is a non-factor, Santorum still cannot get enough conservatives to support him and thus beat Romney “one-on-one,” as he has bragged he could do, in a Midwestern state. (Santorum will get two more opportunities in April: in his home state of Pennsylvania and in Wisconsin.)

The Land of Lincoln also became the Land of Lethargy, with polling showing a lack of enthusiasm for Romney -- even among many of his own voters. Anecdotally, the media found scores of people attending Romney campaign events who reported their own lack of enthusiasm for him.

Overall, the state of the race is this: Romney is slogging toward the nomination in a newly-imposed GOP primary/caucus system designed to go through June. NBC earlier today projected that Romney will be 50 delegates shy of the 1144 when the GOP Convention begins on Aug. 27 in Tampa.

Thus the GOP race will have months to go, and millions more to spend. That means those dollars and these days and weeks are not spent exposing President Obama’s record and re-building the Republican nominee’s reputation and organization; instead Santorum and Gingrich will be blasting Romney, and he will fire back. All the while, Obama floats above the fray, building a state-by-state organization in 16 crucial swing states.

Former GOP Chairman Michael Steele and the members of the RNC really blundered when they adopted the Democrat Party-style proportional delegate system, which is guaranteed to stretch the process out, exhaust the candidates – and the voters – and burn through all the campaign money.

People are speculating about the possibility of a brokered convention. The simple answer is this: the USA is in a national state of distress. Seventy percent of the people say they are “alienated” from the two parties. No one trusts anyone.

In an atmosphere like this, anything is possible – including the unexpected.

In fact, the odds are something truly out-of-the box is almost guaranteed to occur before Nov. 6. This could mean a surprise Veep pick, an October Surprise or a shocking news event that alters the dynamics of the general elections.

As in 1968, when the public was roiled, this election will reflect uncertainty. Be prepared for the unexpected between now and Nov. 6.

John LeBoutillier, a Fox News Contributor, is co-host of CAMPAIGN INSIDERS, seen Sundays at 5:30 PM on FNC and Mondays at 11 AM on Foxnews.com

Former New York Republican Congressman John LeBoutillier is a Fox News contributor. He appears along with pollstersand  fellow contributors Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell on "Political Insiders" which can be see Sunday afternoons on Fox News Channel and every Monday at 10:30 am ET on "FoxNews.com Live."