Was that really a debate? I'm unclear.
First, where was President Obama? He missed a lot of great opportunities to call Mitt out for misstatements that he made. Then again, the president has two full-time day jobs, and didn't spend the time prepping that Mittens did. And that prep showed: if you watched the left side of the split screen when Obama was speaking, you would have seen Mitt alternately pained, bored, but a lot of times just waiting for the opportunity to interrupt, get off a practiced line, smile smugly, and then act like the bully that he is.
A lot of the fault lies with Jim Lehrer who lost control a few minutes in, and then was more of a doormat than a moderator.
The initial polls show that most people thought Mittens won. But remember that the initial polls are on presentation and not on substance. If I worked for the Obama campaign, I'd have ads up today under the title "Which Mitt?" showing that his answers were inconsistent, lacked math, facts, and consistency, and above all counteracted most everything he's been running on for the past 6 years. This link is to Politifact's debate fact checker article. It's interesting that they called a lot of what Obama said "half-true" when even in their write-up they point out that Obama was completely correct. Politifact used to be an honest broker, but this year, they've been getting things wrong with a partisan spin to the GOP talking points. Still, it's a place to start in looking at what is true, and it isn't the litany Mitt ran through. A more detailed analysis is of the facts is here, but sadly most low-information voters will be unable to read through it. And one more round-up.
Luckily, one debate does not an election make. While even his supporters will say that President Obama had an off night, there was not a lot (except Medicare and Social Security, which he should have defended more strongly) to harm him. Further, it's unlikely that his likeability score will change: we ALL have bad days, and we all know our president well enough to know that's what last night was.
Meanwhile, Mitt created a lot of trouble for himself. Not just the swing-state ads that will certainly hit the airwaves in the next news cycle or two, but by walking back so much of what he has been running on, he's hurt himself with his base. His mish-mash of information on Romneycare is going to come back to haunt him. Further, he didn't come off any more likeable than he was going in. Fire Big Bird? Really?
What Mitt had to do for the long run was not just come off more practiced last night, but to get those 792 undecided voters across the swing states to like him. And saying that he likes Big Bird, but he'd basically fire him, will not endear him to anyone. Had he spoken about cutting NPR and PBS funds in the ozone (like he talked about most things) he might have gotten away with it: but he put a face to yet another person he'd like to fire. (And we all know he likes firing people.) It seems a minor point, but it speaks to what he is, and it won't play well.
And so - there are two more presidential debates, and the Biden-Ryan showdown. It's not over, and while the needle may move a little, this wasn't the game changer the wacko right wanted.