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Romney says he'll run as conservative amid 'Etch A Sketch' gaffe

Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum holds up an Etch-a-sketch while addressing supporters at a "Get Out The Vote" rally in Mandeville, La., March 21, 2012.

ARBUTUS, MD -- Mitt Romney said he plans to run on the same issues in the general election as he has in the primary in response to a top aide's comment likening Romney's pivot to the general election to an Etch A Sketch.

Romney acted to hastily control the damage resulting from comments by adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN, which prompted a day's worth of attacks from Democrats, as well as Romney's Republican rivals.

Romney told reporters following his lone event today that while his campaign will change organization, the issues on which he'll run "will be exactly the same."

"I'm running as a conservative Republican," he said. "I'll be running as a conservative Republican nominee."

The comments gave Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich a new weapon to use against Romney, figuratively and literally illustrating their case that the former Massachusetts governor is only a conservative of political convenience.

Mitt Romney said he plans to run on the same issues in the general election as he has in the primary in response to a top aide's comment likening Romney's pivot to the general election to an Etch A Sketch.

The two men, who lag behind Romney in the delegate count, jumped at the opportunity to attack Romney after a senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, this morning compared moving into the general election campaign to the children’s toy this morning, saying, “you can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.”

Both Gingrich and Santorum brought small Etch A Sketch toys to their afternoon events in the state of Louisiana. 

“We're not looking for someone who's the Etch A Sketch candidate,” Santorum said after pulling out the toy during his event in Mandeville. “We're looking for someone who writes what they believe in in stone and stands true to what they say."

Santorum even told the crowd it was “the first of what I’m going to now call my ‘Etch A Sketch Tour of America.'"

“Given everybody's fears about Gov. Romney's flip flops, to have his communications director say publicly to all of us, if we're dumb enough to nominate him we should expect by the acceptance speech he'll move back to the left, triggers everything we should worry about,” Gingrich said as he began his town hall in Lake Charles, where he appeared holding the toy. "I think having an Etch A Sketch as your campaign model, raises every doubt about where we're going."

The former House speaker handed the popular childhood toy to a little girl sitting in the front row of the Harlequin Steaks and Seafood restaurant and joked, “You can now be a presidential candidate.” (Gingrich went on and autographed the toy for her after the event.)

Santorum said he purchased his Etch A Sketch at a Toys R Us store “down the way” while the Gingrich campaign simply said they bought the “Cars” themed toy today.

But the two candidates themselves were not alone in their purchases.

More than 2,000 miles away outside Romney's Arbutus event, Santorum’s press secretary was passing out mini Etch A Sketches in the parking lot.

Holding the one remaining toy she had yet to distribute, Alice Stewart told reporters this “gaffe” from a top Romney advisor “confirms what a lot of conservative have been afraid of.”

“The campaign acknowledged that his [Romney’s] conservative credentials can come and go with the climate, just like an Etch A Sketch, and we can’t have that,” Stewart said.

Romney had initially refused to address Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch comments while asked several times on the ropeline following his event in Maryland.

“I’m not doing a press conference right now, OK?” Romney told reporters.

One group that does seem happy with all the buzz of the children’s toy today is the Ohio Art Company, the Etch A Sketch manufacturer.

"Happy to see Etch A Sketch, an American classic toy, is DRAWING attention with political candidates as a cultural icon and important piece of our society," said Nicole Gresh, spokeswoman for the manufacturer. "A profound toy, highly recognized and loved by all, is now SHAKING up the national debate. Nothing is as quintessentially American as Etch A Sketch and a good old fashion political debate.”

Alex Moe reported from Lake Charles, LA. Jamie Novogrod reported from Mandeville, LA.