Who Won the War Over Cory Booker?

Democrats and Republicans both believe they got the upper hand in the kerfuffle over Cory Booker's criticism of attacks on Bain Capital.

The perpetual outrage machine of the 2012 campaign alit Monday on Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who said on Meet the Press on Sunday that he found the negativity of the campaign "nauseating," including his own party's attacks on Romney's past work in private equity.

As Booker partially backtracked, the Obama campaign declined to let up on the issue, holding a conference call to push the story of yet another company Bain Capital took over and profited from while laying off workers and eventually driving it into bankruptcy. Republicans, meanwhile, attempted to use Booker's words as validation for their claim that Obama is attacking capitalism, with the Romney campaign swiftly rolling out a web video decrying "President Obama's attacks on free enterprise" and featuring Booker.

By the end of the day, the president himself had weighed in, calling the Bain issue "part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success."

So who won this round? (And can we call the resulting trophy the Booker Prize?) I asked two smart strategists -- a Democrat and a Republican, both unaffiliated with the presidential campaigns. Each called the debate for his own side, but not without some criticism.

John Feehery, Republican strategist, former congressional aide:

"This issue is going to be a liability for Romney. It just is. But I think, at the end of the day, because Obama is seen as anti-capitalistic, they may be able to win this fight. This comment from Booker is a gift from heaven, because it gives them a talking point. They're going to take that clip, and whenever Romney's attacked by the Obama campaign they can use it to say, 'These attacks are ridiculous, just listen to Obama supporter Cory Booker.' This is not the last we've heard of this thing. This is the only major argument the Obama campaign has -- that you shouldn't hire Mitt Romney to be president because when he was CEO, he fired people. They have nothing else to talk about. They can't talk about his record, or else they would be doing that."

A Democratic presidential campaign veteran, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to be honest about the Obama campaign:

"I thought the Obama campaign was making a really poor case on this issue until I saw the president just now at his press conference. That's the way you do it. That's the way you talk about it. We can't survive as a party in the long run being labeled anti-business .... If this turns into a referendum on Romney, we are happy as a party, and the last few days have been a referendum on Romney. People have been talking about his role at Bain, and I'm not sure they've always been talking about it the right way, but anytime that's what we're talking about is a better place to be. The president said it better than his ads have: If his rationale for being president is his stewardship of a company whose sole mission was to make profits at any cost, that's fair game, because that's not what a president does."
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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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