Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have found his “Etch A Sketch” moment at Wednesday’s debate.

A campaign aide suggested last spring that Romney could easily erase the right-leaning tone of his primary campaign speeches. Then, like a shaken Etch A Sketch, the Republican candidate would create a new, more moderate image of himself to present to undecided independents during the general election campaign.

On Wednesday, Romney appeared focused and prepared, standing toe-to-toe with the president, looking every bit Barack Obama’s equal on the economic issues that dominated the debate.

He was helped by Obama, who looked tired and uncomfortable to be defending his record and was unable to make many attacks on Romney that stuck.

In fact, one of Romney’s strongest moments came in defending his tax cut proposal, which Obama described as a $5 trillion deficit buster.

“I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut,” Romney said. “What I’ve said is that I won’t put in a tax cut that adds to the deficit.”

But he has, and it would.

According to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, Romney’s plan to drop tax rates by 20 percent, eliminate the inheritance tax, the alternative minimum tax and other tax reductions would indeed cost the federal budget $480 billion, which rounds out to $5 trillion over 10 years.

Romney said he would pay for those tax cuts by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions. The Tax Policy Foundation, however, says there would not be enough of them to fill the gap without involving tax shelters such as the home mortgage and health insurance deductions, effectively raising taxes on the middle class.

Some fact checkers buy Romney’s explanation and conclude that he will pay for his tax cuts, but since he won’t say what loopholes he would close, we remain skeptical.

His new pledge seems geared for voters who have just tuned in. He has promised big tax cuts throughout his five-year run for the White House, and five weeks before Election Day is no time for a Etch A Sketch shake up.

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