President Obama’s chief political strategist hammered comments made by Newark Mayor Cory Booker regarding former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital as “wrong”, the latest attempt by the White House to get out from under the burgeoning controversy.

“In this particular instance he was just wrong,” Axelrod told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell — speaking about Booker’s defense of private equity firms. “There are specific instances here that speak to an economic theory that isn’t the right economic theory for the country.”

Here’s the full Axelrod interview from “Andrea Mitchell Reports”:

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Of course, even as Axelrod was pushing back on Booker’s comments, Romney’s campaign released a web video featuring — you guessed it! — just those comments.

While Booker talked about lots of things during his appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press” it’s one specific thing he said that the White House simply can’t let stand.

“This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides,” Booker said. “It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.” (Italics added.)

Drawing a direct comparison between attacks on Romney’s business record and attacks on Obama’s former pastor had to set off alarm bells in Chicago.

Obama’s team has long argued that the 2012 election won’t be a referendum on President Obama but rather a choice between two candidates. Spokesman Ben LaBolt asserted just that in a conference call this morning, telling reporters: “This election, like all other elections, is going to be a choice between two candidates, two records and two visions for the country.”

A HUGE part of trying to make it a choice election rather than a referendum election — and we remain unconvinced the White House can do that — is to excavate Romney’s record at Bain Capital in hopes of painting him as a out-for-self, vulture capitalist who is out of touch with what average Americans need or want.

Booker’s comments directly undermine the idea that what Romney did at Bain is fair game. It’s why the White House has — and had to — come out so aggressively against them. Watch to see if President Obama himself offers any thought on Booker during his press conference today at 4:30 p.m.