WASHINGTON — As the Obama campaign doubles down on the use of Bain Capital to question Mitt Romney's economic philosophy, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is backing off his criticism of a line of attack he called "nauseating."
During an appearance Sunday on "Meet The Press," Booker, an Obama supporter and rising star, seemed to equate the Obama campaign's Bain strategy with the scuttled plans of a GOP "super PAC" to raise Obama's past ties to Jeremiah Wright, a retired Chicago pastor whose controversial speeches became a campaign issue in 2008.
Obama's reelection campaign had launched a television ad campaign earlier in the week highlighting the bankruptcy of a Kansas City steel plant that Bain Capital had acquired. Vice President Joe Biden amplified the theme of the attack during a two-day trip in eastern Ohio, saying Romney "made sure the guys on top got to play by a separate set of rules," walking away with millions of dollars as workers were laid off.
The campaign kept at it Monday with the launch of a nearly six-minute video about another Bain-owned company, Ampad, which shut down an Indiana plant and laid off 250 workers.
"To me, Mitt Romney takes from the poor and middle-class, and gives to the rich. It's just the opposite of Robin Hood," one worker says in the video.
Booker said Sunday he was uncomfortable with the use of Bain as a campaign foil. The venture capital firm has "done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses," Booker said.
"It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines to me what this country should be focused on," Booker said.
Booker, who has embraced social media, saw quickly that his comments enraged Democratic allies. He first attempted to clarify the comments by tweeting, "Yes, Obama must be reelected. But we as a Nation owe it to him & ourselves 2 reject politics as usual." He then retweeted some of the feedback, both positive and negative.
Eventually, he put out a YouTube video that amounted to a near reversal on his earlier position.
"Let me be clear, Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He's talked about himself as a job creator, and therefore it is reasonable — and therefore I encourage it — for the Obama campaign to examine that record and discuss it. I have no problem with that," Booker said, hewing to Obama campaign talking points.
The mayor, speaking alongside an open laptop and two mobile devices, did say he hoped the election would not be about "small things" but about "unifying our country around ideas."
Republicans have pounced on the friendly fire. An email from the national committee announced a "Stand With Cory" petition and social media campaign. Obama, the message says, "has no record to run on" and is using "every negative slant in the book to preserve his job. Even his Democratic allies are starting to get tired of it," it adds.
An Obama campaign spokesman denied any rift.
"As you know, Mayor Booker expanded upon his comments yesterday and he pointed out in a similar fashion that we have today that Romney has based his candidacy on his tenure as a corporate buyout specialist, and Mayor Booker said that Romney had not been forthright about his tenure there," Ben LaBolt told reporters.
It's relevant for voters to question, LaBolt added, why Romney and his partners always succeeded even when companies like Ampad failed.