Santorum, After Iowa

Des Moines, Iowa – One hot August night in Ames, Rick Santorum stood on the mat-covered basketball court at Iowa State University’s Hilton Coliseum. As pop-country songs played softly over the arena’s loudspeakers, he huddled with his wife, Karen. Few people noticed him, and his handlers, if he had any, were elsewhere. Reporters breezed past the couple, hustling to chat with big-name strategists working for Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

A couple steps away, under a cavern of Klieg lights, Sean Hannity of Fox News bantered with Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman, who was widely expected to sweep the upcoming straw poll. Santorum, surveying the scene, scowled. As he waited for Bachmann to finish the interview, he tapped his foot, like a backup player itching to get into the game. Once again he had participated in a Republican primary debate, and once again he was a bench-warmer.

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