Romney Draws Fire Over Aide’s ‘Etch A Sketch’ Comment

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  March 22, 2012 at 9:25 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Mitt Romney campaigns Wednesday at the American Legion Post 109 in Arbutus, Md. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Rick Santorum couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

The morning after Mitt Romney’s double-digit victory in Illinois and on the same day he received the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, those gains were, shall we say, wiped clean. By a gaffe. Again.

This time, it wasn’t the front-runner’s words that shook up the race. Romney’s longtime top aide, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, bungled a CNN interview Wednesday morning.

Asked if Romney had been forced in the primary to take positions too far to the right that could potentially harm his chances with moderate voters in the general election, Fehrnstrom responded: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes.”

He added, “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

The comment set off a firestorm of reaction from Romney’s GOP rivals and Democrats who view the Republican as the likely challenger to President Obama this fall.

Santorum responded during a Wednesday afternoon campaign event in Mandeville, La., charging that Romney lacked core conservative principles.

“They think they have this nomination in the bag so it’s time to reset. It’s time to start moving to the middle,” the former Pennsylvania senator told supporters. “You have an opportunity here in Louisiana to make a very clear statement: You’re not looking for someone who is the Etch A Sketch candidate. You’re looking for someone who writes what they believe in in stone and stays true to what they say.”

His campaign also kept up the offensive on Twitter, with deputy communications director Matt Beynon sending out a photo of Santorum using an Etch A Sketch to study “up on @MittRomney policy positions.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also got in on the Etch A Sketch action during an event Wednesday in Lake Charles, La. “Given everybody’s fears about Gov. Romney’s flip-flops, to have his communications director say publicly to all of us, if we’re dumb enough to nominate him, we should expect that by the acceptance speech he’ll move back to the left triggers everything people are worried about.”

Gingrich added, “They don’t even have the decency to wait until they get the nomination to explain to us how they’ll sell us out, and I think having an Etch A Sketch as your campaign model raises every doubt about where we’re going.”

The Democratic National Committee seized on the comment as well, sending out a flurry of emails and releasing a web video titled “Some Things You Can’t Shake Off,” highlighting some of the positions Romney has taken during the nominating fight, such as his call to end government funding of Planned Parenthood and his opposition to the Dream Act.

You can watch the video here or below:

Romney sought to clean up the mess following a late afternoon event in Arbutus, Md., but the damage had already been done.

“Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile. The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same,” Romney told reporters. “I was a conservative Republican governor, I’ll be running as a conservative Republican,” he added.

The use of the Etch A Sketch as a prop by his GOP opponents will have a short shelf-life, but the comment could stick with Romney as he seeks to win over conservative voters who have so far been unmoved by his candidacy. By pivoting too quickly to the general election he risks leaving some of those voters behind, and he will need them on his side come November.

ETCH A SKETCH WEIGHS IN

So, what did Etch A Sketch think about all the newfound attention on the classic toy?

The parent company for Etch A Sketch, Ohio Art, released a statement Wednesday that said, in part: “Happy to see Etch A Sketch, an American classic toy, is DRAWING attention with political candidates as a cultural icon and important piece of our society. A profound toy, highly recognized and loved by all, is now SHAKING up the national debate. Nothing is as quintessentially American as Etch A Sketch and a good old fashion political debate.”

Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins has the full statement, and notes that Wednesday was the busiest day for the company’s public relations office since making the Guinness Book of World Records last year (for the most people sketching the same thing on an Etch A Sketch at the same time).

NEWS ON NEWT

Gingrich opened up to NPR’s “Morning Edition” about his views on an open convention.

“I think the possibility is very real that we could get to an open convention,” he said. “I think as the person most people think is the best debater against Obama, I would have a shot. I also happen to think an idea such as the American Energy Plan are very attractive to people. But I would also argue that in a setting where I have grave doubts about Gov. Romney’s ability to win the general election, I have a citizen’s duty to try to help us get to an open convention. And in that process I may well end up either as the nominee or having a significant influence on the nominee.”

The Washington Post’s T.W. Farnam reports on Gingrich’s financial picture, and it doesn’t look good.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) writes in Roll Call that Gingrich “has become the Mr. Irrelevant in the GOP race for the presidential nomination.”

HEADING FOR THE EXIT

Gwen Ifill (@pbsgwen) had a conversation with retiring Sens. Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine, and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico. In a rare showing of bipartisanship, the two senators sat down together to discuss the disappearing center.

Snowe said things have changed for the worse during her decades on the Hill:

[T]he analyses that have been done recently about ratings of various — of all of us as senators, whether conservative or liberal and so on, back in 1982, there were 58 senators that came between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican. And, today, there are none.

So there’s not much of a center. And we have to decide that the institution has to not only solve problems, but the American people have to give rewards to those people and individuals who are willing to work across party lines. There are no political rewards for that today.

Bingaman offered his advice for the new senators that will replace them in 2013:

[M]y advice would just be to reach out to people of the other party and try to get — I think Olympia’s right, that you don’t get any credit, particularly with voters in your state, particularly in the primary process, for reaching out to the other party.

Watch here or below:

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • The Romney campaign released a television ad Thursday in Wisconsin, which holds its primary in early April. The 30-second spot, titled “Conservative Record,” touts Romney’s private sector experience and his efforts to close a $3 billion budget gap as governor of Massachusetts.

  • A new poll shows President Obama’s standing in a dozen so-called “purple states” appears to be on the rise, reports Kim Geiger of the Chicago Tribune. The president’s approval rating has improved to 46 percent in the survey, up from 41 percent last September. Romney is viewed unfavorably by more than half — 56 percent — of purple state voters, and he trails Mr. Obama in a head-to-head matchup, 48 percent to 44 percent.

  • Romney did have some good news Wednesday, when conservative group FreedomWorks told the Washington Times’ Ralph Z. Hallow it would no longer oppose his candidacy.

  • The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch has a handy chart detailing all the fundraising numbers for the campaigns and super PACs supporting them.

  • Politico’s Jonathan Allen and Kate Nocera write that while Mr. Obama talks gas prices and heads abroad for a foreign trip, House Democrats are left “to soldier on like a lonely battalion,” defending the president’s health care law before the Supreme Court rules if it is constitutional. “They are in the midst of a week’s worth of press calls, news conferences and even a Twitter virtual town hall designed to promote their view that, two years after its enactment, the health care law has made a positive difference for millions of Americans,” they write.

  • Seamus makes The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama delivers remarks in Cushing, Okla., at 10:55 a.m. and speaks in Columbus, Ohio, at 4:25 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Louisiana, holding a meet and greet in Houma at 1 p.m. and attending the Baton Rouge Tea Party presidential forum and straw poll at 9 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum addresses the USAA in San Antonio, Texas, at 11 a.m.

  • Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers and @suddinengel.