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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Energy and Etch a Sketch

Romney, the sketchy frontrunner

Mitt Romney commandingly won the Illinois primary this week, picking up at least 41 delegates to Rick Santorum's 10 and bolstering his argument that he is now, essentially, the presumptive GOP nominee. Santorum's strategy now hinges on convincing delegates in states where they are selected at party conventions to switch to his side, thus preventing Romney from reaching the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. But, right now, it looks unlikely that he'll be able to force a contested convention in Tampa.

Romney didn't have much time to enjoy his front-runner status this week, with an embarrassing gaffe by his spokesman Eric Fehrnstom on Tuesday morning, who described Romney's ability to pivot to a general election campaign as being "almost like an Etch-A-Sketch.... You can shake it up, and we start all over again." The Etch-A-Sketch children's toy -- and the illusion to Romney as a blank-slate flip-flopper -- has already become a staple prop of Santorum's stump speech.

It's the foreign policy, stupid

Both Romney and Santorum continued their attacks on the administration's foreign policy this week, lending more credibility to the emerging narrative that national security, rather than the economy, may become the dominant issue of the campaign.

Santorum criticized the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "If the game plan is, we're leaving, irrespective of whether we're going to succeed or not, then why are we still there? Let's either commit to winning or let's get out," he said.

Romney once again deferred to "better judgment." Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Romney conceded that "I think it's very plain to see that the conditions are not going very well" in Afghanistan, but said "the timing of withdrawal is going to be dependent about what you hear from the conditions on the ground" and the advice of military commanders.

Obama to Seoul

The president is traveling to South Korea this weekend for a 50-nation nuclear summit that will likely be overshadowed by North Korea's recently announced plans to launch a rocket next month. The administration has condemned the move as a violation of Pyongyang's recent agreement to halt weapons tests and return to nuclear talks.

North Korea's nuclear program has gotten less attention on the campaign trail than Iran, though Romney has called for the United States to pursue regime change in North Korea following the death of former leader Kim Jong Il.

Energy

With the campaign now moving to Louisiana, rising gas prices and offshore drilling are very much on the agenda this week. At a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma -- a major pipeline hub -- Obama defended his administration's energy policy, emphasizing the U.S. crude production has increased under his presidency and that the number of operating oil rigs is at an all-time high.

GOP candidates have hammered the president's decision to delay construction of the northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada. Newt Gingrich, in particular, has reframed his struggling campaign almost entirely around the issue of gas prices. "He doesn't have a green energy policy, he has a greenback energy policy. He keeps shoveling out greenbacks to failing ideas and propping them up with our tax money and with our children's money," Gingrich told Fox this week.

Romney has also blamed the "gas-hike trio" -- Obama's Energy secretary, EPA administrator, and Interior secretary - for high fuel prices, though as critics have pointed out, Romney actually suggested high energy prices could be a good thing when he was promoting "smart growth" policies as governor of Massachusetts.

The GOP attacks on Obama's energy policies have bewildered many environmentalists, who haven't exactly seen eye-to-eye with him throughout his presidency. "The president is very much in the center -- far too much in the center for many environmentalists," global warming activist Bill McKibben told the AP.

What to watch for:

Louisiana holds its primary on Saturday, with polls showing a strong lead for Santorum. Then, it's a rare week off before Maryland, Wisconsin, and Washington D.C. hold their contests on April 3.

The latest from FP

Stephen Walt argues that the drawn-out U.S. election system prevents presidents from conducting a coherent foreign policy.

Scott Clement looks at whether Afghan's still support the U.S. war in their country.

Aaron David Miller debunks the biggest myths about Israel's clout in Washington.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin doubts Romney would back up his aggressive rhetoric on China if he makes it to the White House.

Steve Levine sees the Obama administration's decision to slap tariffs on Chinese solar panels as election year politics.

Uri Friedman finds one place where the president still has overwhelming support: Sweden.

Can you tell 1980s Libertarian Ron Paul from today's Republican Ron Paul? Take our quiz to find out.

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