BATON ROUGE, La., March 22 (UPI) -- Mitt Romney's rivals flaunted Etch A Sketches after a Romney aide suggested the U.S. GOP presidential hopeful might change as easily as the toy erases images.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia brandished the familiar toy at campaign stops Wednesday after Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's senior adviser, told CNN if Romney becomes the Republican nominee, he would then adjust positions he took in a primary campaign dominated by conservatives to please a more centrist electorate in November.
"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign -- everything changes," he said. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."
Santorum, with a newly purchased Etch A Sketch in his left hand, urged voters in Mandeville, La., to take Fehrnstrom at his word.
Santorum said the former Massachusetts governor could not be trusted as a conservative.
"They think they have this nomination in the bag, so it's time to reset -- it's time to start moving to the middle," he said. "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 are looking for someone who writes what they believe in in stone and stays true to what they say."
The Louisiana Republican presidential primary is Saturday.
Gingrich told a crowd in St. Charles, La., Fehrnstrom's comment "triggers everything we should worry about" with Romney.
"If we're dumb enough to nominate him, we should expect by the acceptance speech he'll move back to the left," Gingrich said.
"Gov. Romney's staff doesn't 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," he said.
Romney, trailing Santorum in Louisiana, told reporters in Arbutus, Md., Fehrnstrom's comments referred to the post-primary campaign organization, not to his positions -- even though the CNN question prompting Fehrnstrom's remark was, "Is there a concern that pressure from Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?"
Romney said the nature of the campaign would change "organizationally."
But "the issues I'm running on will be exactly the same," he said in a brief, and rare, exchange with reporters covering his campaign.
"I'm running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I'll be running as a conservative Republican nominee -- or, excuse me, at that point, hopefully, nominee for president. The policies and positions are the same."
The damage control came a day after Romney won the Illinois primary and hours after he received an endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Primary elections have been held in 34 states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Gov. Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall," Bush said, two months after refusing to support a GOP presidential contender in the Jan. 31 primary in his own state -- a primary Romney won.
At the time, Bush was critical of harsh rhetoric adopted by Romney and his rivals on the issue of illegal immigration.
Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, also supports Romney.
Around the same time as the Jeb Bush endorsement, FreedomWorks, a large Tea Party organization led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said it dropped its opposition to Romney's presidential bid.
The group said last year it would campaign against Romney, in part because of the healthcare overhaul he shepherded while Massachusetts governor.
Romney has half the 1,144 Republican National Convention delegates he needs to clinch the nomination.
The Etch A Sketch observation came during an interview when Fehrnstrom pointed to Romney's delegate count, suggesting Romney's lead was insurmountable so Santorum and Gingrich should drop their bids and coalesce around a Romney candidacy.
Santorum and Gingrich "are good Americans, they are good Republicans and ultimately I'm confident they'll make a decision that's not only right for their party but right for them," Fehrnstrom said.
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