The economy remains the driving issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, but both sides have in recent days taken detours to deal with distractions and ghosts from the past.
"Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright," said Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker during an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough."
It began with the revelation last week that high-level Republican donors and super PAC leaders were weighing a $10 million advertising strategy to tie President Obama to his former pastor, the controversial Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., most famous for issuing fiery condemnations of the United States and its policies from behind the pulpit.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney repudiated the proposed ad campaign and in no uncertain terms called on his supporters to leave religion out of the race.
Mr. Romney was then forced to fight back against a new Obama campaign ad that blasts his record while CEO of Bain Capital. The spot features workers from a steel plant that closed after the private equity firm took over and calls Mr. Romney a "vampire" and a "job destroyer."
He responded by accusing the Obama team of "character assassination," and quickly released his own commercial highlighting companies kept alive by investments from Bain.
While Mr. Obama's and Mr. Romney's past affiliations and business dealings will likely remain topics of the race in the weeks and months to come, leaders from both sides of the aisle fear the debates over Mr. Wright and Bain Capital are doing a serious disservice to voters by drawing attention away from the nation's growing debt and the campaigns' contrasting visions for the future of the U.S. economy.
Mr. Booker said he's "very uncomfortable" with the Obama campaign strategy of attacking Mr. Romney's record at Bain, arguing that the Democratic plan to "indict private equity" is a mistake.
"This stuff has got to stop. Because what it does is, it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It's a distraction from the real issues. This is either going to be a small campaign about this crap, or it's going to be a big campaign about the issues that the American public cares about," he said.
Other high-profile Democrats, however, think differently. Austan Goolsbee, who formerly chaired the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, is now urging the Romney campaign to release all of the firm's financial record for public inspection, a highly unusual step for a private company.
"Turn over the records, and let people see what the business record was," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Obama senior adviser David Axelrod doubled down on attacking Bain during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," and reiterated his belief that Mr. Romney's record as CEO of the firm should be examined more closely by voters.
While Bain is a legitimate political issue, Mr. Axelrod said, the religion of either candidate should not be.
After the proposed Wright ad strategy was revealed last week, some Democratic pundits suggested that Mr. Romney's Mormon faith be put under the microscope.
The Obama re-election team has thus far rejected that idea, and Mr. Axelrod pledged on Sunday that Mormonism will not be targeted.
"We've said that's not fair game," he said.
Both sides now have promised that religion will be off-limits in the campaign, but Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thinks that the Obama team actually would be happy to have Mr. Wright or Mr. Romney's faith take center stage. Mr. Priebus said the administration is looking for a distraction from the struggling economy.
"He wants this story to play out in the media. He can't change the truth and escape the reality of where we are in this American economy," Mr. Priebus said, also speaking on "State of the Union."
On ABC's "This Week," House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, echoed those sentiments and said it will come down to Mr. Obama's economic record and Mr. Romney's plan for the future. He called the plan to attack Mr. Wright "nonsense."
On the same program, Mr. Boehner's Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, agreed and flatly said, "This election is not about Rev. Wright."
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