Gingrich, Santorum Look To Get More Mileage From Etch A Sketch Flap

By: CNN - Posted by Giang Nguyen
By: CNN - Posted by Giang Nguyen

Washington (CNN) -- Mitt Romney headed to the nation's capital Thursday to raise money for his front-running Republican presidential campaign, buoyed by recent primary wins and a key endorsement but also facing fallout from a top adviser's gaffe.

The former Massschusetts governor met with key members of his party on Thursday on Capitol Hill, including influential South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, according to GOP aides. Romney's meeting with Ryan was part of a larger session with members the congressional delegation from Wisconsin, which holds its primary on April 3.

Ryan's endorsement is highly coveted, and he is widely mentioned as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate. DeMint's endorsement is similarly prized.

Romney also met with members of the congressional delegation from Pennsylvania, a key state that holds its primary April 24.

A Wednesday comment on CNN by Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's senior campaign adviser, continued to provide top rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich with ammunition to attack Romney over shifting stances on issues such as health care and abortion during his career.

Fehrnstrom said the campaign will "hit a reset button" to take on President Barack Obama in the fall if Romney wins the GOP nomination, adding, "it's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."

The comment came in response to a question about whether Romney had to adopt conservative stances in the Republican campaign that could hurt him with moderates in November.

Both Santorum and Gingrich sought to extend the issue into a second day.

Santorum brandished the toy during a speech on health care in San Antonio, Texas, telling his audience, "I can tell you as someone who doesn't have my policy positions on an Etch A Sketch -- and I carry one of those around now -- my policy positions are written out of conviction."

Gingrich also used an Etch A Sketch for a prop when speaking at a rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which votes next in the primary process on Saturday.

"You have to stand for something positive, and you have to stand for something that lasts longer than this," he said, showing the audience the toy.

Gingrich also continued his attacks on Romney's well-financed campaign and the help he's getting from the super PACs that support him.

"People aren't stupid, and so we have a real challenge, and I need your help this Saturday," he said. "Because the fact is that the sheer weight of money from Wall Street -- our money coming back to us through big donors who got the money that is part of the tax break, these are all guys who stayed wealthy because of us. So they are now giving money to keep somebody safe whose vision of a platform is an Etch A Sketch."

A website unveiled Thursday by the Gingrich campaign features the Fehrnstrom quote above an Etch A Sketch that highlights Romney's policy shifts when viewers hit a prompt labeled "shake." Written on the drawing toy is "Mitt's Etch A Sketch Principles."

"You could not have found a more perfect illustration of why people distrust Romney than to have his (adviser) say that the Etch A Sketch allows you to erase everything in the general election," Gingrich said Wednesday. "You have to read the guy's quote to realize -- if he had set out to highlight for everybody why we distrust Romney, I think he couldn't have done a better job."

Santorum's campaign on Wednesday posted a photo on Twitter of the candidate using an Etch A Sketch, saying it showed him "studying up on (Romney's) policy positions."

On the Tea Party Nation website, blogger Judson Phillips wrote Thursday that the Etch A Sketch image "is what conservatives have been warning about for months with Romney."

"He is a liberal. He has no core convictions and as soon as he becomes the nominee, he will move far to the left," Phillips continued.

The caricature of Romney as a politically motivated flip-flopper extends far beyond the Republican campaign and right-wing blogosphere.

President Obama told Public Radio International that Romney is "pretending" the health care plan he instituted in Massachusetts is different than the national plan that he got passed two years ago Friday. Republican opponents have made the the Massachusetts reform that Romney oversaw as governor a frequent attack on Romney's conviction.

Obama pointed to the similarities between the two plans without mentioning the Republican front-runner by name.

"We designed a program that actually previously had support of Republicans, including the person who may end up being the Republican standard bearer and is now pretending like he came up with something different," the president said.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle joked about Romney at a dinner Wednesday night honoring fellow former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Howard Baker for their legacies of bipartisanship.

"Tonight, we are here to honor two distinct, different Republicans -- and no, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney," Daschle said.

Romney had no public events scheduled Thursday while he attended fundraising events in the Washington area after what should have been a triumphant Wednesday -- his 43rd wedding anniversary -- in which he picked up the prized endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and celebrated his solid victory in the Illinois primary the night before.

Instead, he had to try damage control over Fehrnstrom's comment by taking one question from reporters about the Etch A Sketch snafu.

"Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile," Romney said. "The issues I am running on will be exactly the same. I am running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee, at that point hopefully, for president. The policies and positions are the same."

In a new campaign ad in Wisconsin, which holds its primary April 3, Romney turned his focus to the ever-increasing federal deficit.

The ad highlights Romney's tenure as governor of Massachusetts, making the case that his background as a corporate executive prepared him to run a fiscally sound government.

Romney's message of cutting deficits comes after the candidate acknowledged an economy on the rebound, telling a crowd in Illinois this week that "I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. We'll see what happens. It's had ups and downs. I think it's finally coming back."

While Gingrich was campaigning in Louisiana and Santorum was in Texas, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the libertarian champion running well behind, had no campaign events scheduled.

Both Gingrich and Santorum brushed off the Bush endorsement for Romney, saying the son of one Republican president and brother of another represents the GOP establishment rather than the conservative soul of the party.

"It's a completion of the establishment trifecta," Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said in reference to endorsements for Romney by former President George H.W. Bush, former Sen. Bob Dole and now Jeb Bush.

After Romney's victory in the Illinois primary, analysts sounded like the Republican campaign was essentially over.

"The writing's on the wall" for the rest of the field, said CNN analyst Erick Erickson, a longtime Romney critic.

"This comes down to Mitt Romney," Erickson said. "Not only is he the front-runner but the nominee. This is a clear win for Mitt Romney tonight in a state with blue-collar voters, with industrial voters and suburban voters."

The Illinois result gave Romney at least 41 of the 54 delegates at stake in the primary, increasing his total to 562, according to CNN's estimate. Santorum is second with 249, Gingrich third with 137 and Paul last with 69.

A total of 1,144 delegates is needed to clinch the GOP nomination.

Santorum said he expects to do better in coming primaries and caucuses, adding: "We are feeling very, very good about winning Louisiana on Saturday."

The former Pennsylvania senator has made a strong showing in traditionally conservative Southern states, winning Alabama and Mississippi a week ago while Romney finished third.

"This is the last chance, in a sense, for the conservative area of the country to plant their flag, and we felt very good about what Alabama and Mississippi did," Santorum said in the Thursday radio interview. "They restarted this race again."

Another Santorum victory in Louisiana would continue the pattern of the race, while a Romney win would signal growing support from the conservative base that he needs to finish off his rivals.

Gingrich, who appears increasingly unlikely to mount another comeback after two previous campaign surges, said Thursday that he is used to fighting from behind.

"Almost everywhere I've campaigned, because of the way of the money, we start behind and then we gain ground," Gingrich told about 100 supporters in Lafayette, Louisiana.

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