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Republican campaign gets a bit sketchy

After nearly three months of primaries and caucuses, it looks like there's finally a winner in the Republican presidential nomination process. But it might not be who -- or what -- you might expect.

It's Ohio Art Co.

That's because on Thursday, as what appears to be a direct result of infighting among the GOP presidential hopefuls following words that a certain political strategist no doubts wishes he could choke back down, Ohio Art saw its over-the-counter stock price triple to $9.65 and sales of one of its most venerable toys -- the Etch A Sketch -- boom in many stores.

Why the sudden surge of interest in a 51-year-old toy, admittedly one that was once of the most popular in the nation, that has been nudged to the side in recent years with the advent of video games and such?

The little red drawing toy has been caught up in the cyclonic windstorm of American politics, a high-speed ride that could carry it on for a while or dash it to the ground at any moment when the next ill-advised remark takes over.

What happened was Eric Fehmstrom, a strategist for front-runner Mitt Romney, was asked how the former Massachusetts governor's politics in a fall campaign against President Obama might compare to his current stances against Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who are running as conservative alternatives to Romney.

"It's almost like an Etch A Sketch," he told CNN on Wednesday. "You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again." The toy incorporates two white knobs that allows the user to draw a line art picture on its gray screen. A good shake and the image disappears, ready for another to be drawn.

That played swimmingly into the campaign strategies of Romney's GOP opponents who have questioned -- repeatedly and often -- his conservative credentials and accused him of flip-flopping with abandon on issues.

What Fehmstrom articulated with such poorly chosen imagery was a fact of American politics. If you want to win the Republican nomination for president, you run to the right. If you want to win the Democratic nomination, you run to the left. Once the nominations are locked up securing each party's respective base, each candidate then heads hard for the center where the undecided votes of independents and those undecideds who lean a bit one way or the other reside. Whoever gets more of the middle ground wins.

The image that has erupted, however, is anything but that. Santorum and Gingrich (and, if Romney wraps up the nomination, no doubt Obama in the fall) have a familiar, easy to understand illustration to buttress their arguments as to why Romney's not the best choice. Both were holding up Etch A Sketches on Thursday at campaign appearances. Santorum, who also amazingly said that Republicans might as well vote for Obama if Romney is the GOP nominee, said the toy shows the difference between him and Romney, saying he was standing "firmly on the rocks of freedom" while Romney stands in "the sands of an Etch A Sketch toy."

Romney, whose campaign seems intent on repeatedly shooting itself in the foot, will have to do some quick image repair work if he wants to convince Republicans who already are lukewarm to him that his election efforts in the fall wouldn't be just as sketchy.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board