SAN ANTONIO — Presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Thursday compared rival Mitt Romney to an Etch A Sketch toy and said Republicans should give President Barack Obama another term if Santorum isn't the GOP nominee.
Santorum's point is that former Massachusetts Gov. Romney is not conservative enough to offer voters a clear choice between him and Obama in the fall. Santorum argues that he is the true conservative who can provide that contrast.
"You win by giving people a choice," he said during a campaign stop in Texas. "You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there."
"If they're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future," Santorum added.
Santorum's reference was to Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom's comment Wednesday that "everything changes" for the fall campaign. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch," he said on TV. "You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
The remark reignited criticism of Romney as the type of politician who will say or do anything to win.
Romney, who made no public appearances Thursday, issued a statement expressing disappointment "that Rick Santorum would rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican."
"This election is more important than any one person. It is about the future of America," he said. "Any of the Republicans running would be better than President Obama and his record of failure."
During his speech to employees of USAA, a San Antonio-based insurance and financial services firm, Santorum briefly held up an Etch A Sketch and said his positions don't change like etchings on the toy, which are erased with a shake. He could be seen fiddling with the toy's knobs in the intervals between questions from audience members.
Addressing reporters afterward, Santorum lit into Romney for saying "I'm going to run as a conservative."
"He didn't say 'I am a conservative.' He said 'I'm going to run as a conservative. So what do you do, you just sort of decide what you're going to be for the elections?" Santorum asked. "No one can accuse me of that. People say 'Well, you can't win because of that.' No, I will win because of it."
Santorum said his brand of political authenticity will play well in Texas because "people are looking for someone who is real, someone they can relate to, not someone who can get in front of an audience and say whatever they want."
The Texas primary has been pushed to May 29 because of litigation over redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature. Santorum said he expects to win Saturday's primary in Louisiana and added, that "the race will not be over when Texas comes around."
"You'll have the opportunity here, in the state of Texas, to speak very loudly about what kind of leader you want in this country," he said.
Santorum said he speaks with Texas Gov. Rick Perry before scheduled campaign stops in the state. Perry sought the GOP nomination but left the race in January and endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"This is an important state for us," Santorum said. "I've already spent a lot of time, I've already done a lot of campaign events in Texas. More than anybody else, I suspect."