By Justin Sink - 03/21/12 06:52 PM EDT
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum fanned the flames of controversy surrounding the suggestion by Mitt Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom that the former
governor could reset "like an Etch A Sketch" after the primary election
was over, with both candidates producing the popular toy during a campaign stops in Louisiana Wednesday afternoon.
Gingrich, who was speaking in Lake Charles, La., handed the toy to a boy in the front row of his event and quipped, "you can now be a presidential candidate."
"One of Governor Romney's aides today on television said that Gov. Romney, after he wins the primaries, will be like an Etch A Sketch. You take whatever he said and you can shake it up and it will be gone and he's going to draw a whole new picture for the general election," said Santorum. "Well, that should be comforting to all of you who are voting in this primary. 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."
Santorum spokesman Matt Benyon also tweeted a picture of Santorum holding an Etch A Sketch, captioned, "Rick Santorum studying up on Mitt Romney policy positions."
According to multiple media sources, Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart was handing out pocket versions of the toy in the parking lot outside a Romney event in Maryland.
The Romney campaign said Fehrnstrom's comments simply referred to a change in focus rather than a retreat from Romney's conservative positions.
"As we move from the primary to the general election, the campaign changes. It's a different race, with different candidates, and the main issue now becomes President Obama’s failure to create jobs and get this economy moving," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
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.
Gingrich has attacked Romney on flip-flops before, launching campaign websites and using social media to attack the GOP front-runner.
"Governor Romney has a long history as a liberal Massachusetts Republican who is out of touch with the concerns of the working conservative base of the Republican Party," Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis said in a statement.
—This post was updated at 3:05 p.m.