On Wednesday, the Fehrnstrom quip allowed some Romney critics to renew their argument that he is an unreliable conservative.
“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Ferhrnstrom said. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
His opponents pounced, saying Fehrnstrom was conceding that Romney shifts his views with the political winds — a reputation that has dogged Romney since he entered the campaign. “Etch a Sketch is a great toy but a losing strategy,” Newt Gingrich said via Twitter. Santorum’s campaign passed out miniature Etch a Sketches on the campaign trail. The Democratic National Committee’s rapid-response team issued at least 13 statements on the matter.
After a campaign stop Wednesday in Maryland, Romney aides said the candidate would conduct a brief question-and-answer period with reporters. He took one query about the Etch a Sketch comment and then ended the event.
“The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same,” Romney said. “I’m running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee. . . . The policies and positions are the same.”
Richard Land, the political leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that one of the best things Romney has going for him is the Democrat he would face if he won the nomination.
“Do not underestimate President Obama’s unique ability to rally people around his opponent,” Land said, adding that he expects that social conservatives will begin backing Romney, who “increasingly looks like the nominee.”
A growing number of longtime GOP fundraisers are showing signs of uniting around Romney’s candidacy, giving millions to Restore Our Future, a super PAC that has played a pivotal role in running attack ads in key primary states.
Bob Perry, who is known for his support of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks in 2004, wrote a $3 million check to Restore Our Future last month, accounting for nearly half of the group’s February contributions.
Other major GOP figures who have put money into the pro-Romney super PAC in recent weeks include Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons, another Swift Boat funder and a former bundler for George W. Bush and the 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.); former Univision chief executive Jerry Perenchio; and Griff Harsh, husband of Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman, who is leading Romney’s fundraising efforts in California.
After Romney’s strong showing in Illinois, several people in the audience at his event in Baltimore County said they hoped they were watching a new phase of the campaign.
“I’m hoping that was the tipping point, I’m really hoping it was,” said Leanne Music, 65, a Republican from Arbutus. “I’m tired of hearing them talk about each other. I want to hear them talk about the real issues,” she said, noting how Romney said he thought he was “almost there” after Tuesday’s win.
“I think he’s starting to believe that it’s happening.”
Staff writers Aaron Davis in Baltimore and Chris Cillizza in Washington contributed to this report.