President Obama brought the attacks his campaign has been making against GOP rival Mitt Romney directly to the businessman on Monday during a NATO summit press conference in Chicago.
Asked about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's comment on Sunday calling the attacks against Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney used to lead, "nauseating" Obama strongly defended his campaign.
"This is not a distraction, this is what this campaign is going to be about," Obama said. Referring to a recent web video depicting workers laid off from a plant purchased by Bain, Obama said, "What is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed? And that means I've got to think about the workers in that video just as much as I'm thinking about folks who've been much more successful."
Obama called out his opponent twice and took a shot at the fact that while Romney is playing up his business credentials, he's largely glossing over his time as governor of Massachusetts.
"And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent Gov. Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience," Obama said. "He's not going out there and touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying, 'I'm a business guy, I know how to fix it' and this is his business."
Distilling the difference between the current Democratic and Republican political philosophies, Obama said Romney may have been good at "maximizing profits" but that's not what being president is about.
"If your main argument for how to grow the economy is 'I knew how to make a lot of money for investors' then you are missing what this job is about," he said. "It doesn't mean you weren't good at private equity, but that's not what my job is as president. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now but 10 years from now and 20 years from now."
Obama was also asked if Romney was directly to blame for layoffs at companies that may have happened after he left Bain.
"What I would say is Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals he's putting forward for how he says he's going to fix the economy and if the main basis for him suggesting that he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private equity firm, then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining," Obama said.
The president's remarks came after a flurry of news reports claimed the Obama campaign was in a frenzy to quell push-back from their attacks on Bain Capital. Booker, an up-and-coming Democrat, issued a video following his initial condemnation that walked back his direct criticism and clarified he was nauseated by negative campaigning writ-large.
Danny Hayes, a political science professor at American University, says while the Obama campaign is attempting to portray Romney as out-of-touch with ordinary Americans the state of the economy will ultimately determine whether or not he is re-elected.
"The Obama campaign can make this argument all they want, but I suspect that whether or not Romney goes up or down in the polls, whether or not Obama wins the election, is going to have a lot more to do with how Americans generally feel about the economy," he says. "This is the problem for incumbent presidents who face either weak or middling economies. When they are running for re-election they have to find some way to talk about something other than the economy."
Hayes also points out that many of Booker's wealthiest constituents are likely investment bankers, leading him to be more apt to defend them from being demonized.
"Politicians have lots of constraints on them and one of them for Corey Booker is that he's representing a state that has tons and tons of investment bankers. He's got multiple audiences there," he says.
The Romney campaign has worked hard to maximize Booker's damage, already splicing together a web advertisement touting his comments.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.