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Romney takes hits in 'Doonesbury,' but may draw attention

Romney in 'Doonesbury'
In yesterday's installment, Gary Trudeau took aim at Romney's past positions on gay rights. (Doonesbury © 2007 G.B. Trudeau/Reprinted by permission of Universal Press Syndicate/All rights reserved)  View larger image

He famously depicted Dan Quayle as a feather and Bill Clinton as a waffle. He rendered both presidents Bush invisible and gave the elder Bush an evil twin called Skippy.

Now, "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau has taken aim at a new target: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who made his first appearance in the long-running comic strip yesterday. In a series of cartoons scheduled to continue through this week, Romney is needled for what critics call flip-flops in his positions on abortion, gay rights, and gun control.

The former Massachusetts governor, who says some of his positions have evolved over time, has been dogged by doubts about his conservative convictions because of past statements of support for legal abortion and gay rights, and his recent decision to join the National Rifle Association.

Though the cartoon makes fun of Romney -- one to-be-published strip suggests that the only thing consistent about the Republican is his leading-man looks -- the exposure is likely to help him, said one professor of history and politics.

"The jokes and criticism are out there already," said Julian Zelizer, a professor at Boston University. "His goal now is to become a national figure, and this kind of satire, being in cartoons, is a good thing."

The "Doonesbury" critique unfolds as Romney is interviewed by a regular character in the strip, radio host Mark Slackmeyer.

In yesterday's installment, the disc jockey begins by admiring the candidate's past positions on gay rights and calling him "a good friend to gays."

Romney, who speaks by phone and is not pictured, fends off the praise: "Um . . . No. No, I'm not!"

In today's strip, Slackmeyer expresses disbelief that Romney would shift his views for a shot at the presidency. "Forget it!" the disc jockey says. "He has too much integrity!" Romney responds, "I don't, I don't! I swear!"

An upcoming strip refers to Romney's conflicted views on stem cell research and his criticism of the health care plan he championed as governor.

A spokesman for the Romney campaign, Kevin Madden, said he wasn't aware of the candidate's "Doonesbury" debut until a Globe reporter asked him about it yesterday.

"I guess it's just a sign that people are taking notice -- and not just the people that like us," he wrote in an e-mail.

Though Senator John McCain was previously featured in "Doonesbury," no current Republican contender besides Romney has been featured recently, a manager of the comic strip's website said in an e-mail. "Doonesbury" is published in about 1,400 newspapers nationwide.

Trudeau, who has drawn the comic strip for more than 35 years, did not respond to questions yesterday. His work is "never personal," he said in an interview with the Globe three years ago. ". . . [I]t's my job."

"I don't think people look to a comic strip for wisdom or guidance in shaping their political views," Trudeau said.

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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