The New York Times:
Eric Fehrnstrom is Mitt Romney’s David Axelrod.
He is the keeper of the candidate’s narrative, the guy who has been with Mr. Romney since before he was governor of Massachusetts and has stuck like glue through two grueling presidential campaigns. He has been the defiant defender of Mr. Romney when he has been accused of being a flip-flopper or having no core principles.
And so it was curious that when Mr. Fehrnstrom on Wednesday reached for a word to describe how Mr. Romney might pivot to the general election, the one that came tumbling from his mouth was “Etch a Sketch,” the children’s drawing toy in which nothing is ever permanent.
(...) For Mr. Fehrnstrom, the gaffe — and the Twitter-fueled media frenzy that erupted for a day — was the rare misstep for a normally disciplined communications strategist who has become part gatekeeper, part historian for Mr. Romney.
A onetime journalist, Mr. Fehrnstrom joined Mr. Romney’s political team in 2002, quitting his job at an advertising agency on a day he was writing a press release about the spicy menu at Popeye’s Fried Chicken. He quickly became known for his aggressive manner with reporters. In a testy 2008 exchange with an Associated Press reporter immortalized on YouTube, Mr. Fehrnstrom chided, “Save your opinions and act professionally!”
(...) Mr. Fehrnstrom’s role has expanded over the years from a public one into a backroom one. It was Mr. Fehrnstrom, aides said, who thought to dig into the financial records of Mr. Gingrich, where the campaign’s researchers found that the former House speaker had invested in housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That allowed Mr. Romney to later quip in a debate, “Have you checked your own investments?”
Now, Mr. Fehrnstrom serves as a kind of validator for the many consultants and advisers who have been drawn into Mr. Romney’s presidential orbit. “When Eric trusts you, it helps you build the relationship with the governor,” Mr. Madden said.
“Governor Romney holds out Eric’s counsel almost above all else,” said Gail Gitcho, the campaign’s communication’s director. “He certainly is keeper of the Romney record. He’s been there from Day One.”
But Mr. Romney is no longer Mr. Fehrnstrom’s only focus, and that fact has proved problematic at times. After Mr. Romney’s failed presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Fehrnstrom opened up his own political consulting firm called the Shawmut Group. His first client: Scott Brown, who — with Mr. Fehrnstrom’s help — claimed the seat of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy for Republicans.
Last summer, as he prepared to help Mr. Brown begin his re-election campaign, Mr. Fehrnstrom secretly donned a fake Twitter identity to mock Alan Khazei, then a Democratic Senate hopeful. Using the handle “CrazyKhazei,” Mr. Fehrnstrom for weeks wrote mocking and sometimes nasty missives, anonymously.
It was not until he accidentally tweeted one of his snarky notes about Mr. Khazei under his own, nonanonymous Twitter account that he was forced to fess up.
The incident was a minor embarrassment to Mr. Romney, who shrugged it off, according to other close aides. Several people in the current Romney inner circle said Mr. Fehrnstrom’s “Etch a Sketch” comment prompted no dressing down either.
Mr. Fehrnstrom continues to balance his duties to Mr. Romney and Mr. Brown. But it is Mr. Romney who is trying to become the Republican standard-bearer, with a shot at the White House. And so Mr. Fehrnstrom has become a target.
In January, Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Fehrnstrom engaged in their first of what has become occasional Twitter wars, shooting mildly snarky messages back and forth.
“Sometimes you don’t need a picture to tell a story,” Mr. Fehrnstrom tweeted to Mr. Axelrod. “The numbers speak for themselves — 1.7 million jobs lost under Obama.”
“Dude, none of my business,” Mr. Axelrod responded. “But shouldn’t you be in debate prep instead of trying to explain yourself to me?”
An overly modest Mr. Fehrnstrom had the last word: “Haha! Believe it or not, the economy is an issue where we don’t prep Mitt, he preps us.”