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Romney erases ‘Etch A Sketch’ image

INDIANAPOLIS — Mitt Romney's top strategist ignited a firestorm in March when he suggested that the candidate could "Etch A Sketch" away his campaign from the primaries — but Mr. Romney has yet to do a general-election wipe-down.

In fact, as he gears up for accepting the GOP's presidential nomination and speaking to a national audience Thursday, Mr. Romney has been anything but a conservative turncoat. He has kept to his primary positions, no matter how controversial, on everything from domestic to foreign policy.

"For now, 'Etch A Sketch' is not much of a part of the Romney image," said Mark Rozell, George Mason University political science professor. "He seems to be firming up the persona of a business-savvy, bottom-line-focused leader, [rather] than trying to create some new image for the general election."

In the four months since laying claim to the nomination, Mr. Romney has not backed off his opposition to the federal Dream Act, which would legalize young illegal immigrants, nor his promise to repeal President Obama's health care law despite signing a state version in Massachusetts, nor his steadfast rhetorical embrace of Israel — even making the Jewish nation the centerpiece of his three-nation overseas swing this summer.

Despite calls even from within his own party, he has stuck to his vow to increase defense spending, and he erased any doubt of his support for the House GOP's budget by tapping the man who authored the plan, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, as his running mate.

It's a bit of a surprise for a candidate for whom policy evolutions were regular during his time in Massachusetts politics, and again when he began to seek national office in 2008 and again in 2012.

This time, after an intense primary that pulled the field ever further to the right, Mr. Romney finally secured the delegates to win the GOP's nomination late in the spring, and analysts predicted he would pivot back to the political center, just as his senior strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, seemed to suggest in a March interview, when he said "everything changes" once the primaries are over.

"It's almost like an Etch A Sketch," Mr. Fehrnstrom told CNN at the time. "You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

But that has not happened. In fact, by selecting Mr. Ryan, the candidate chose someone with unassailable conservative credentials on nearly every issue except for immigration — the one area on which Mr. Romney already was poised to be the most conservative nominee in the history of either major party.

Even Democrats took notice.

"The Etch A Sketch is gone," Vice President Joseph R. Biden observed this month at a campaign stop in Blacksburg, Va., after Mr. Romney announced his selection of Mr. Ryan as his No. 2.

Analysts said they expect Mr. Romney to shy away from a list of stances in his Thursday speech, and instead speak to principles.

Republican strategists said Mr. Romney doesn't have to pivot on his message because the economic recovery he promises is appealing to all voters.

Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee said that by being "true to his word," Mr. Romney is giving voters a stark choice.

"He said during the primary that he was against raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and wanted to deal with the deficit through cuts for everybody else. He's held true to that. He said during the primary that he supported the Paul Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. He has stayed true to that," Mr. Elleithee said.

Mr. Romney also has benefited from declining to take a stand on some major issues.

Despite prodding from Democrats, he hasn't said whether he would repeal Mr. Obama's recent policy halting deportation of many illegal immigrants, nor would he say whether he would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would grant women more chances to sue over alleged pay discrimination.

Despite the flak from Democrats, the choice of Mr. Ryan as running mate has ginned up some excitement among social conservatives who have questioned Mr. Romney's commitment to their issues.

Robert L. Vander Plaats of Iowa, who heads the social conservative group the Family Leader, said the Ryan choice will "alleviate some of that" lingering doubt.

"I think Ryan has been consistently pro-life, consistently pro-marriage. He is willing to take on the tough issues of entitlement reform, and he is a bright guy who can step in to be president at any given time," Mr. Vander Plaats said, adding that there "is no doubt that Gov. Romney still has to close the sale."

"At the end of the day, people are going to vote for the top of the ticket, and because of his record and rhetoric of the past, there is still cause for pause amongst many of the conservatives in regards to, will he hold true when he is president," he said.

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