The controversy surrounded remarks made by Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom, who was asked during an appearance on CNN Wednesday whether the campaign had drifted to far to the right for a general election audience.
"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign," Fehrnstrom said. "Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
The Romney campaign has maintained that Fehrnstrom simply meant that Romney would be pivoting from a discussion if issues important to GOP voters to those relevant to a wider audience, not abandoning his conservative principles. But the remarks played into a narrative that has dogged Romney's campaign since his initial run for president in 2008 — that the former Massachusetts governor has driven hard to the right and flip-flopped on important policy issues simply to appeal to the GOP base. That's left some Republicans concerned about how Romney would govern, and if he could adequately deflect Democrats' attempt to paint him as opportunistic in the general election.
Rivals on both sides of the aisle seized on the remarks. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum both produced the toy while giving stump speeches in Louisiana Wednesday.
Gingrich, who was speaking in Lake Charles, La., handed the toy to a child in the front row of his event and quipped, "you can now be a presidential candidate."
Santorum, meanwhile, argued that voters were looking for someone "who writes what they believe in stone," and not an "Etch a Sketch candidate."
Meanwhile, a Santorum spokeswoman handed out pocket-sized versions of the toy in the parking lot outside Romney's event.
Democrats joined the chorus of jeers, with the DNC releasing a web video accusing Romney of "trying to scrub his extreme record."
The Etch A Sketch controversy dominated Wednesday's news cycle, halting momentum Romney had earned off a strong win in Tuesday's Illinois primary and a surprise endorsement from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.