Several leading Republican strategists, both named and anonymous, were quoted Wednesday as slamming the latest in a string of bold attack ads on Barack Obama, this one overlaying images of the young senator with troubled trollops Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. “McCain ads are just catch as catch can, one wild swing at Obama after another,” one strategist told the Washington Post.

Washington Post, The Fix:

John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster, said the ad was effective but, in doing so, also offered an implicit criticism of the commercials that had come before it. “They need to have a stronger concentration of effort and focus on this issue and several subsequent issues to win a majority of the vote,” McLaughlin said. “Hopefully this is the start of an aggressive issues debate through election day.”

Other members of the Republican consultant community were far less sanguine in their estimate of the ad’s effectiveness.

“Sigh,” emailed one senior party strategist who later added: “Every Obama ad since his announcement has fit nicely into a theme, an argument. McCain ads are just catch as catch can, one wild swing at Obama after another. Their increasing bitterness reflects a campaign that is more about some sort of therapeutic frustration venting for the staff than any coherent strategy to elect McCain. It’s unprofessional to the core.”

Another high-level party operative grumbled: “It seems like they are talking to the press pack, not voters.”

None of the strategists The Fix spoke with predicted whether McCain’s change in tone toward Obama ultimately will succeed.

Much depends on whether — as the McCain campaign clearly believes — the average voter sees the Arizona Senator as a credible messenger or not. If voters know and trust McCain, then the critiques he is launching against Obama could well find fertile soil. If, on the other hand, McCain is less of a known commodity with voters, his attacks could well rebound against him — casting him as an angry politician trying to tear down a fresh face.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll — helpfully flagged by Post polling director Jon Cohen — shows that McCain may be treading on dangerous ground. Four in ten voters said that McCain had been attacking Obama unfairly while just more than two in ten say that Obama has attacked McCain unfairly.

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