(ARBUTUS, Md.) — Rick Santorum’s campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart was dispatched to Toys R Us Wednesday morning to buy 20 Etch-A-Sketchs. She handed them out at a town hall for Santorum’s chief rival, Mitt Romney, in Arbutus, Md. to the press corps on Wednesday afternoon.
It’s not every day that a presidential candidate’s aide finds herself at a toy store doing candidate business, but the campaigns of both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have seized on comments by Mitt Romney’s top spokesman that the former Massachusetts governor, who is far ahead in the race for the GOP nomination, would hit a “reset” button to face Barack Obama.
“Everything changes,” said Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom on Wednesday morning, describing how Romney would appeal to moderate voters during a general election. “It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
By early afternoon, the Etch a Sketch comment had taken over conversations about the Republican race. Both Santorum and Gingrich had used them as props. And Stewart, fresh from Toys R Us, was handing out the red drawing toys for free in Maryland.
Santorum said the comment reflects Romney’s willingness to compromise his principles and become “a completely new candidate” who can “draw a new picture” simply to get elected.
“That whoever you are going to vote for is going to be a completely new candidate, remove all trace of any kind of marks and be able to draw a new picture. Maybe a picture sort of like when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, not as a conservative. One thing you can say – even my staunchest critics will say – is what you see is what you get.”
Gingrich had similar comments in Louisiana, when he handed an Etch A Sketch from the stage to a child in the crowd, telling her she could now be a presidential candidate.
“It is such a perfect illustration,” said the former House Speaker. “How is anybody going to trust any pledge he makes if his, some people talk about making pledges that are in stone, but the idea that a Romney pledge is on Etch A Sketch. This will just resonate. It will remind everybody in the conservative movement why they are very worried about a Romney presidency and about a Romney candidacy. And it really makes you doubt and wonder about his sincerity.”
The Etch A Sketch theme threatened to overshadow a key endorsement Romney received from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who argued that Republicans should coalesce around Romney’s candidacy.
But Santorum believes he is that conservative candidate, not Romney.
“I agree, they should all start supporting me because I’m the strong conservative candidate,” Santorum said in response to a reporter’s question about Bush’s endorsement and the need for conservatives to coalesce around one candidate.
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