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How Cory Booker Deflated the Obama Team's Main Campaign Issue

Much has already been written about Mayor Cory Booker’s faux pas on the Sunday edition of NBC’s Meet the Press. Appearing on the program as a surrogate spokesman for the Obama campaign, Booker spent the first part of his time in support of the president’s re-election. He told viewers that during Obama’s first term they received a tax cut, that he saved the auto industry while a Romney presidency would have let them fail, and that Obama has put forth a bi-partisan plan for real tax reform. It was standard Obama boilerplate, and Axelrod and company were undoubtedly smiling. Had Romney or a surrogate for his side been on, he could have undoubtedly engaged Booker in an interesting conversation on the relative merit of Booker’s claims.

But then, the bombshell fell. The issue of Bain Capital, the key issue that the Obama team is using to demonize Governor Romney, came up. Undoubtedly, the panel and journalists expected more of the same from the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. And then Booker spoke the words that would come to haunt him:

I have to just say from a very personal level I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity…this kind of stuff [referring as well to conservative attacks on Rev. Jeremiah Wright] is nauseating to me on both sides.

No one should have been surprised. As the mayor of Newark, a town desperately in need of new business to rebuild a dying city and help it recreate itself, he knows that equity funds invested in potential business is a mechanism for economic growth and jobs. Like Steven Rattner, Obama’s former auto czar and billionaire investor who said as well last week, “Bain Capital’s responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number. It was to create profits for his investors, most of whom were pension funds, endowments and foundations. It did it superbly, acting within the rules and acting very responsibly and was a leading firm. So I do think to pick out an example of somebody who lost their job unfortunately, this is part of capitalism, this is part of life. And I don’t think there’s anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about.” Booker found himself inadvertently making arguments for Romney.

Both Booker and Rattner, not surprisingly, found themselves on quickly delivered team Romney videos meant for broadcast in swing states like Ohio and Wisconsin. Within minutes, a fuming David Axelrod was on the phone, and probably texting a nasty message to Booker that he could read before he got off the air.

Axelrod should not have been very surprised. As TNR’s Alec MacGillis points out, Booker represents hedge fund and equity fund managers in Wall Street who four years ago saw Obama as a New Democrat who stood fast in their corner and who poured a fortune into the Obama campaign. Now they are heavily disappointed in the president, and opposed to the left-wing populism he is now basing his campaign on. For that reason, many of the traditional Wall Street types who flocked to the president’s side in 2008 are now drifting away from him, and towards Romney instead.