Cory Booker's criticisms complicate Obama team's anti-Bain message

Newark Mayor Cory Booker talks during a news conference outside of the Prudential Center April 4, 2012, in Newark, N.J. AP Photo

Updated at 12:34 p.m. ET

(CBS News) Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising political star and a surrogate for President Obama's re-election campaign, criticized the president's re-election team on Sunday for its negative ads focusing on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, calling them "nauseating" -- just one day before the Obama team rolled out its second round of Bain attacks.

Booker's remarks illustrate the careful line the Obama team -- including all of its surrogates -- must walk as it tries to cast Romney as a corporate raider without appearing to criticize the private equity industry as a whole. Republicans, starting Sunday, pounced on Booker's remarks, while the Obama camp tried to tailor Booker's remarks to defend its ongoing attacks against Romney.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Booker said that the negatives ads in the presidential campaign are "nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright."

The mayor was referring to the multi-pronged campaign the Obama camp launched last week, attacking Romney's record as the head of Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded, seeking to cast him as a heartless corporate titan and job destroyer. The Obama team today released the second ad in its anti-Bain campaign, which attacks Romney and Bain Capital for laying off workers at an Indiana office supply factory.

Booker seemingly equated the Obama attacks with a proposed ad campaign that would have hit President Obama for his ties to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Republicans, including Romney, quickly denounced the proposed ad campaign after it was revealed in news reports.

After criticizing the Bain ads on "Meet the Press," Booker took to YouTube to add more context to his remarks -- but he stood by his assertion that such attack ads were "nauseating." Booker said he was expressing his "profound frustration with the kind of campaigning that I think is becoming too much of the norm."

Instead of promoting Booker's nearly four-minute video, the Obama campaign promoted via Twitter an edited, 35-second version which focused on Booker's defense of the attacks against Romney: "Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign," Booker said, adding that scrutiny on that record is "reasonable" and that he would "encourage it."

Republicans slammed the Obama team for its handling of the response. "Obama clamping down on @corybooker shows that democrats are no longer allowed to defend free market," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus tweeted.

The RNC later put a petition online called "I stand with Cory," which said, "That's right Mr. President, we aren't going to let you destroy free enterprise. Stand up for America. Stand up for job creators."

After the Obama team on Monday rolled out its new anti-Bain video, the Romney campaign responded by referring to Booker's remarks.

"President Obama continues his assault on the free enterprise system with attacks that one of his supporters, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, called 'nauseating' and a former adviser, Steven Rattner, called 'unfair,'" Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul said in a statement. "Americans expected a different kind of politics from Barack Obama but, sadly, this is just more of the same failed politics that dominates Washington."

Later Monday morning, the Romney campaign highlighted remarks from another Democrat, former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., who said on MSNBC Monday morning that he agreed with Booker's remarks.

When asked about Booker's remarks on a conference call with reporters, Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt noted that Booker said Romney's record deserves scrutiny, and that Booker said "Romney had not been forthright about his tenure."

LaBolt said the campaign was "not at all" worried negative attacks would lower turnout among the president's supporters, arguing that the president's re-election team is also conveying a positive vision of the future. "We've not heard an affirmative vision from Mitt Romney," he said.

LaBolt also reiterated that the campaign is "not questioning the purpose of private equity as a whole."

"There are many ways to run a business and many ways to measure that business's success," he said, charging that Romney put profits ahead of long term growth. Those "same values would have severe consequences for middle class families if he were elected," LaBolt continued. "It's time to stop pretending Romney's time as a corporate buyout specialist...somehow means he knows how to create jobs."

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