No more Mitt the nice guy.
Mitt Romney hit back this week on President Obama's aggressive attacks on his private sector record at Bain Capital, but questions remain about whether he can and should get equally tough on the campaign trail.
Romney has had arguably one of the scrappiest weeks on the presidential campaign trail, demanding an apology Thursday from the Obama team for suggesting he might he have committed a "felony" in a federal filing, then doing five TV interviews the next day in which he railed against the allegations.
Still, Obama has hammered louder and longer on the trail, which has resulted in calls for the GOP presidential candidate to roll up his sleeves and hit back on the stump.
"Romney should go on the attack if only to push back on Obama's message that 'I am not Mitt Romney,'" Tyler Harber, a GOP strategist and partner at Harcom strategies, said Friday.
Harber and others point out this presidential campaign has been exceptionally negative – and at a relatively early stage.
Outside groups for both candidates have already spent millions on TV ads across the county, particularly in such battleground states as Colorado, Ohio and Virginia.
The president, just this weekend, is making five campaign visits to the swing state of Virginia.
In Virginia Beach on Friday the president attacked Romney on his foreign policy, saying, “Mr. Romney doesn't think we should have a timetable for getting out of Afghanistan. I disagree.”
He then elicited a round of boos when suggested Romney and House Republicans are clinging to unsuccessful economic policies of the past, including a proposed extension of Bush-era tax breaks for all Americans.
Romney and his family campaigned in New Hampshire at a Fourth of July parade, and Romney earlier this week made a challenging pitch for votes at the annual NAACP convention.
In an interview with Fox News on Friday, he called allegation that he inaccurately reported when he left Bain Capital both “absurd” and "beneath the dignity of the presidency."
But the end of his week also was highlighted in the news media by a fundraising event with former GOP Vice President Dick Cheney that netting an estimated $4 million, raising further questions about when Romney also will hit hard on the campaign trail.
Harber says the Obama campaign has ramped up the negativity early because the president is hiding from his economic policy, which has had limited success in helping the country recover from the recession.
"This is earlier than we usually begin to see it," he said. "And it’s too offset the damage Romney has done."
He also suggested Romney should continue to talk on the trail about why the president has failed on the economy and why the “billions, trillions,” he spent on economic stimulus has had limited impact.
"It's less about Romney attacking and more about him taking off the gloves and pressing the president on his message that 'I'm not Romney.'"
Elliott Curson, a former Reagan strategist, agrees that Obama's first-term record has forced him to attack, but he is comfortable so far with Romney's campaign strategy.
"He's working," Curson said Friday. "Romney needs to tell his base what it wants to hear, about jobs. But he needs to be specific."