Politics

Romney would hit ‘reset button’ for fall election, aide says

Mitt Romney’s campaign said on Wednesday that the former Massachusetts governor would hit a “reset button” for the general election, a strategy his opponents claim shows a lack of conviction.

Appearing on CNN’s “Starting Point,” Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said his candidate is the inevitable Republican nominee, and that a campaign against President Obama would be different from the ongoing contest against Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

“Is there a concern,” panelist John Fugelsang asked Fehrnstrom, “that the pressure from Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?”

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“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom responded. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch — you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

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The Santorum campaign seized on the Etch A Sketch comparison, calling it an acknowledgment that Romney erases and redraws his positions to suit the moment.

“We all knew Mitt Romney didn’t have any core convictions,” Santorum communications director Hogan Gidley said in a statement, “but we appreciate his staff going on national television to affirm that point for anyone who had any doubts.”

Later in the day, Santorum used Fehrnstrom’s remark on the stump in Louisiana, contrasting Romney’s alleged waffling with his own consistent conservatism.

“When I say that I believe in something, people may say ‘I don’t agree with what you believe in,’ ” Santorum said in Harvey, La., where he was campaigning ahead of Saturday’s primary. “But what they will also say is ‘At least I know that you believe in what you believe’ … Isn’t that what we want from a Republican nominee for president?”

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The Democratic National Committee also was quick to jump on the Fehrnstrom interview, producing a video on Wednesday. Over audio of Fugelsang’s question, the onscreen text asks viewers, “How will Mitt Romney explain his extreme positions?” The word “extreme” appears in red.

After showing Fehrnstrom making the Etch A Sketch analogy, more text posits “Wonder what policies he’s trying to restart.” The red border and white knobs of an Etch A Sketch frame the text and the rest of the video, which includes some of Romney’s “extreme” comments of the primary season.

The clips feature Romney declaring his opposition to the Dream Act and Planned Parenthood, and his statement at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference that he was “a severely conservative governor.”

A slew of Obama campaign staffers also tweaked Romney for Fehrnstrom’s interview. Teddy Goff, Obama’s digital director, tweeted that “sometimes the video scripts write themselves.”

A Romney spokesperson, Andrea Saul, sought to quiet the criticism and clarify the GOP frontrunner’s strategy.

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“As we move from the primary to the general election, the campaign changes,” Saul said. “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.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@gmail.com.