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Early exit polls: Most Louisiana GOP voters say Etch A Sketch controversy not a factor

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 24: A street car pases a voting station along St. Charles Avenue during the state Republican primary on March 24, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Voters go the polls to pick a candidate with 20 delegates up for grabs. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Etch A Sketch took an unexpected turn at center stage on the campaign trail this week, but most Republican primary voters in Louisiana say it was not an important factor in their vote in today's primary, according to early CBS News exit polls.

On Wednesday, Mitt Romney's communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, sparked controversy when he compared a potential general election campaign to the popular toy when he was asked in a television interview if the extended primary campaign would hurt Romney with moderates in the fall.

"Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign," Fehrnstrom said. "Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

Since then, Romney's Republican challengers have attacked the former Massachusetts governor for his aide's comments, saying it was a sign that Romney was not consistently conservative. And the Etch A Sketch has repeatedly been seen as a prop on the campaign trail.

According to CBS News early exit polls, only 18 percent of Louisiana Republican primary voters said the controversy was an important factor in their vote today, while 73 percent said it was not an important factor.

The early exit polls also showed that electability was the top candidate quality among Louisiana primary voters, similar to the previous GOP primaries and caucuses. Thirty-nine percent of primary voters picked the ability to defeat President Obama as the quality that mattered most for their choice, compared to 23 percent who said they wanted a candidate who was a true conservative. Twenty percent said strong character and 15 percent said right experience.

Majorities of Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich supporters each say they strongly favor their candidate in the exit polls. But while 58 percent of Romney supporters strongly favor him, 37 percent say they have reservations about him. Meanwhile, 64 percent of Santorum voters strongly support him compared to 26 percent who have reservations. Among Gingrich voters, 76 percent strongly support him and 19 percent have reservations.

No matter who they support, the early exit polls show that 71 percent of Louisiana GOP voters would prefer that their candidate win the nomination even if the race goes on a long time, while 27 percent would rather have the race end soon even if their candidate loses.

Also, like in previous primaries and caucuses, the economy is the top issue for voters in the Louisiana today, according to the early exit polls. Fifty-three percent of voters named the economy as the most important issue, compared to 27 percent who said the federal budget deficit, 12 percent who said abortion and 4 percent said illegal immigration.

In addition, 57 percent of Louisiana Republican voters say the nation's economy is getting worse. Meanwhile, 29 percent said it was saying the same and 13 percent said the economy was starting to recover.

About a quarter of Louisiana voters decided on their candidate in the last few days, while three in four decided before that.

More from the exit polls in Louisiana will be released after 9 p.m. ET when the polls close.

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