Republicans frustrated by a perceived lack of fight from the John McCain campaign will find cheer in a Washington Post report this morning.  Sources within the campaign say that they will become much more aggressive in exposing Barack Obama’s ties to radicals and his lack of experience and judgment in the final four weeks of the campaign.  This strategy entails significant risk, but they need to regain the edge they had before the conventions:

Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama’s character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat’s judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said.

With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain’s team has decided that its emphasis on the senator’s biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan’s campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.

“We’re going to get a little tougher,” a senior Republican operative said, indicating that a fresh batch of television ads is coming. “We’ve got to question this guy’s associations. Very soon. There’s no question that we have to change the subject here,” said the operative, who was not authorized to discuss strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As Michael Shear notes, there is some risk in this, although Shear gets another point wrong.  The ad “Original Mavericks” is not the only positive ad this campaign has on the air; “Week” is a positive ad, and Team McCain just rolled it out, and “Foundation” is a hybrid, and I believe that’s still on the air as well.  Shear also points to “Tax Cutter” as an example of Team McCain’s new attack, but McCain has been hammering Obama on his tax record for weeks, if not months, and it has nothing to do with Obama’s associates.

The risk comes with an imbalanced attack — one that doesn’t talk about McCain nearly as much as it talks about Obama.  Nothing in the article indicates that Team McCain plans to stop talking about their own candidates, though.  They may run positive ads, such as “Week”, right along with ads focusing on Obama’s political work with William Ayers, and Obama’s lack of any efforts at reforming Chicago politics.  They almost certainly will continue to produce and air positive advertising, although it won’t gain anywhere near the attention from the media that sharp new attacks on Obama will.  And that’s really the point.

Obama has run on his experience as a community organizer.  That makes the Ayers connection through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge relevant.  Obama has run as a reformer.  That makes his support for Richard Daley, the Strogers, Larry Walsh, and the rest of the corrupt Chicago Machine germane. McCain doesn’t need to focus on Jeremiah Wright, but Hillary Clinton brought it up and Obama made it into a major speech earlier this year, so that’s also on the table.  McCain should have been talking about all of this since June, but perhaps it makes more sense to wait until everyone is paying attention to raise these issues.

With the bailout bill behind him, though, McCain has to start talking about the real reasons behind the financial collapse — the perversion of the lending markets through Democratic intervention, and the Democrats who protected Fannie Mae from the OFHEO regulators while they blithely bought billions in bad paper and turned them into bad securities that poisoned the entire investment sector.    He may have held his tongue while building bipartisan support for Congressional action, but the time has come to name names, and to point to Obama’s massive fundraising from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac interests and link it to his complete inaction on the subprime lending crisis.

The gloves have to come off now.  Republicans want to see John McCain stand up and fight.  They’ll stand up and fight with him, but they’re not going to do that until McCain leads them.