Romney Gets Endorsement While Facing Etch A Sketch Issue

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Photographer: Steven Senne/AP Photo

Mitt Romney and his wife Ann during a victory rally in Schaumburg, Illinois on March 20, 2012.

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Photographer: Steven Senne/AP Photo

Mitt Romney and his wife Ann during a victory rally in Schaumburg, Illinois on March 20, 2012. Close

Mitt Romney and his wife Ann during a victory rally in Schaumburg, Illinois on March 20, 2012.

Photographer: Damon Winter/The New York Times/Redux

Mitt Romney at his election night rally in Schaumburg, Illinois, on March 20, 2012. Close

Mitt Romney at his election night rally in Schaumburg, Illinois, on March 20, 2012.

Photographer: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush during the Florida Forward education forum on Sept. 20, 2011, in Orlando. Close

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush during the Florida Forward education forum on Sept. 20, 2011, in Orlando.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters during an Illinois GOP primary victory party in Schaumburg, Illinois. Close

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters during an Illinois GOP primary victory party in Schaumburg, Illinois.

A misstep by a top adviser to Mitt Romney threatened to overshadow the Republican presidential candidate’s victory in the Illinois primary and a coveted endorsement from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Romney was forced to answer renewed questions about his consistency this afternoon after adviser Eric Fehrnstrom suggested that his candidate will get a fresh start on policy positions if he wins the nomination. Fehrnstrom told CNN that running for president is like a children’s toy that allows drawings to be quickly erased.

“You hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” he said. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich seized on the comments. Santorum held up one of the red toys at a rally in Mandeville, Louisiana, and told supporters, “You are not looking at someone who is the Etch A Sketch candidate.”

Santorum adviser Alice Stewart appeared outside a town hall meeting Romney held in Arbutus, Maryland, handing out the toy. She told reporters that Fehrnstrom’s comment “confirms what a lot of conservatives have been afraid of.”

The aide’s remark, she said, was an acknowledgement that Romney’s “conservative credentials can come and go with the climate, just like an Etch a Sketch, and we can’t have that.”

‘Losing Strategy’

Gingrich posted on Twitter: “Etch A Sketch is a great toy but a losing strategy.”

After initially ignoring reporters’ shouted questions about the flap as he exited his Maryland event, Romney addressed the issue. He said he wouldn’t change his “policies and positions” in a race against President Barack Obama.

“Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile,” Romney said. “The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same. I’m running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I’ll be running as a conservative Republican nominee.”

Romney’s ‘Big Day’

The day started off better for Romney, 65. He trumpeted Bush’s endorsement on Twitter, saying, “March 21st is turning into a pretty big day.”

Bush, who had remained neutral even as Romney claimed a 14- percentage-point victory in Florida (BEESFL)’s Jan. 31 primary, is the latest top Republican to call for an end to the prolonged primary fight. He telephoned the former Massachusetts governor today to endorse him, according to a Romney campaign official.

“Now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall,” Bush said in a statement.

He has no immediate plans to make a public appearance with Romney, according to a person familiar with the situation. Bush believes that, after Romney won yesterday in Illinois, the nation’s fifth-most populous state, it was time for the party to coalesce behind him, the person said, so he offered his endorsement.

Bush joins his parents -- former President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush -- in backing Romney. His brother, former President George W. Bush, isn’t publicly supporting a candidate.

‘Great Things’

Romney told his Maryland audience gathered at an American Legion Hall that he was appearing before them “fresh from a couple of great things” -- his wins in Illinois yesterday and Puerto Rico’s March 18 primary and the Bush endorsement.

He told them he learned of it this morning as he answered his cell phone “and it was Jeb Bush and he said -- I didn’t even have to ask -- he said, ‘Mitt, I want to let you know I’m endorsing you today.’”

In defeating Santorum in Illinois, Romney notched his 20th win of a state or U.S. territory. Still, Romney will have to answer critics who question his conservative credentials and constancy on issues, including abortion rights.

With 99 percent of Illinois precincts reporting, Romney led Santorum 46.7 percent to 35 percent, according to the Associated Press. Representative Ron Paul of Texas had 9.3 percent, followed by Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, with 8 percent.

Conservative Trust

Santorum brushed off Jeb Bush’s endorsement, saying Romney is “getting all the establishment Republicans.” The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania told reporters in Harvey, Louisiana, this morning that Romney isn’t “someone that conservatives can or should trust.”

“They should all start supporting me, because I am the strong conservative candidate,” said Santorum, 53.

Some of the people who came to hear him in Harvey agreed.

“I would vote for Romney, only I would not be happy,” said Linda Terrebonne, 60, a retired Louisiana Clerk’s office worker who is supporting Santorum. She said her Bible study group before the event talked about honor and Santorum.

Santorum, stung by a loss in Illinois that undercut his claim to be strong in politically competitive areas, is trying to regain momentum by focusing on Louisiana’s (BEESLA) March 24 primary. The South has proved a favorable region for him and his appeal to evangelical voters.

Romney’s Big States

Romney proved in Illinois, as he did in Michigan and Ohio, that he can win large industrial states with primary electorates less centered on evangelical Christians. Yesterday’s victory was by a much larger margin than in Michigan and Ohio, where Romney won by 3 percentage points and less than 1 point.

After Louisiana this weekend, the nomination contest moves on to primaries on April 3 in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Romney won at least 41 of the 54 Illinois delegates that were at stake in yesterday’s election, with 15 more to be selected at a state convention later year, and has 563 delegates with 1,144 needed to win the party’s nomination, according to the Associated Press. As was the case in Ohio, Santorum failed to file a full slate of delegates in Illinois, competing for just 44. He has 263 delegates, to Gingrich’s 135 and Paul’s 50, according to the AP’s estimates.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Mandeville, Louisiana, at rtiron@bloomberg.net; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Arbutus, Maryland at jdavis159@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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