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Rick Santorum’s moment in the sun might already be over.

The former Pennsylvania Senator and social conservative firebrand rocketed to the top tier in the Republican presidential field after his surprise (near) first place showing in the Iowa caucuses last week, leading many to speculate he would be the final anti-Romney around which dissatisfied conservatives could rally before it was too late.

Except that hasn’t happened.

The latest PPP poll shows Santorum stuck in fifth place in New Hampshire at 11 percent, and while his pandering on abortion will surely garner a few votes in South Carolina, it’s getting harder and harder to envision him catching Romney, especially if the former Massachusetts governor wins the Granite State on Tuesday by double digits as expected.

But why was Santorum unable to capitalize on the media afterglow of his Iowa triumph?

“I think he’s pretty far out of the mainstream,” said Mark McKinnon, the Austin-based political strategist who led both of George W. Bush’s successful presidential campaigns. “And the further you get out of Iowa, the more you get into the mainstream.”

If Santorum could only get to 25 percent after holding hundreds of events in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, it only makes sense that he would perform poorly in states where he has spent less time, and where voters tend to be more moderate and less religious.

“He was focused and built an operation to run strictly in the Iowa caucuses,” said Rick Wilson, a veteran Florida-based GOP consultant. “And making the transition to the New Hampshire primary very quickly puts him in a position where it’s much harder for him to get a message out effectively compared to the very comfortable environs of Iowa. It’s a scaling problem. A lot of these guys face it. Gingrich has the same problem. They get a buzz, they get a bump, [but can’t follow up].”

Santorum’s brand of grandiose conservatism — he supported “No Child Left Behind” and other ambitious George W. Bush initiatives — is also a poor fit for the more libertarian Tea Party that has captured the Republican Party in the past few years.

“The other thing that happened with Santorum: inside the conservative movement, people are looking and saying, he’s a social conservative, but he’s also kind of a big government conservative, where it’s not how are we going to dismantle federal power and make people more free, but how are we going to use federal power to achieve the ideological ends I [Santorum] like,” Wilson added.

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