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Romney tries to clean up Etch A Sketch mess

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Arbutus, Maryland (CNN) — Mitt Romney promised Wednesday that he would not change his positions if he wins the Republican presidential nomination, hours after a top adviser compared the general election to an Etch A Sketch toy and claimed that Romney can “shake it up” and “start all over again” in the fall.

That remark — uttered by longtime Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN Wednesday morning — was pounced on by the Obama campaign and Romney’s GOP rivals, who called it another sign of Romney’s willingness to change his positions for political gain.

The Etch A Sketch quip became such a distraction on the web and on cable that the candidate himself addressed it to reporters after a town hall meeting near Baltimore.

Romney explained that “organizationally,” a general election effort looks very different from a primary campaign. There are larger staffs and more fundraising support.

But he said his positions would remain the same if he wins the nomination.

“The issues I am running on will be exactly the same,” he told a pack of reporters eager for a comment on the day’s conversation-driver. “I am running a as conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee, at that point hopefully, for president. The policies and positions are the same.”

He then turned and walked back to the curtained area from which he emerged, confusing reporters who were expecting a longer question-and-answer session.

“Actually this isn’t an avail,” Romney responded when more questions were shouted, including one from CNN National Correspondent Jim Acosta. “It was a chance to respond to a question I didn’t get a chance to respond to.”

Romney’s explanation is unlikely to satisfy his Republican opponents Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who both used Etch A Sketch toys as props during the day to accuse Romney of once again shifting his positions.

Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart lingered amid the satellite trucks parked outside the Romney event in Maryland, handing out mini Etch A Sketches to reporters.

Stewart said Fehrnstrom’s remark “confirms what a lot of conservatives have been afraid of.”

“He used to be pro-abortion, he used to be pro-gay marriage, he used to be pro-Wall Street bailouts, climate change,” Stewart said of Romney. “You know now he’s talking a different language, but the campaign acknowledges that if need be, if he won the primary, he would go right back to the middle in order to win the general.”

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Reporter.
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