"A strategy of duck and cover will not carry the day," one Republican insider said. "We have made the sale that we should fire the incumbent, but we have to transition into a message of why it is ok to put our guy in the Oval Office."
"Not ready for prime time. In a sluggish economy, the president should be on defense," said one Democratic operative. "But Romney has been reactive on health care, Bain and taxes. The president has been proactive pinning the GOP nominee down."
Other Democrats were more blunt in their assessment.
"He's not in the John McCain, Bob Dole, Mike Dukakis class yet, but he's moving in that direction," according to one of them.
Added another Democrat, "I feel like Obama must have a sleeper agent inside the Romney operation - otherwise there is campaign malpractice afoot."
The Obama campaign has impressed many Democrats with its bare-knuckles criticism of Romney, a narrative that has dominated much of the media's attention this month. Some Republicans think their standard-bearer needs to get tougher.
"Team Mittens is playing a gentlemen's tennis game while Obama is playing rugby," one right-leaning insider said.
Still, many Republicans retain confidence in Romney's operation. Nearly half of them gave the campaign a grade of seven or higher. Even as some of them concede he could have better handled questions over Bain, they say the criticism amounts to a summertime distraction.
"He's raising a ton of cash and shaking a million hands, which is all one can do before Labor Day," said one Republican. "Trying to win every day on the cable shows would be a waste of time and energy."
Said another Republican, "You don't get to be president by winning July."
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