DENVER - Not even Democrats could deny President Barack Obama got his clock cleaned by Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Wednesday's debate.
While Obama's performance was described as "flat," his team's attempts to spin the loss fell that way, too. Among the worst, they blamed Romney for being too aggressive. One Obama spokeswoman even said Romney was applying for the "attacker-in-chief" position, whereas Obama came off as calm and leader-like.
Obama himself even excused away his poor performance Wednesday by mockingly claiming his attacker was an impostor.
"When I got on to the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama told supporters at a 10,000-strong outdoor rally here Thursday. "But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favour the wealthy.
"The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that," he added. "(The) man on stage last night, he does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney's decisions and what he's been saying for the last year and that's because he knows full well that we don't want what he's been selling for the last year."
While Obama headed into Wednesday's dust-up overwhelmingly the favourite to win, post-debate polls showed viewers thought Romney won by a two-to-one margin.
And Thursday, while Obama scrambled, Romney tried to capitalize on that momentum.
At an unplanned visit to a Colorado conservative group, Romney said the debate was an opportunity to frame their different visions for America.
He also accused Obama, as he did Wednesday with what was surely a scripted line and part of a new Republican attack, of believing in anti-American "trickle down government."
The question now is whether Romney can continue to close the gap on Obama, as the president's numbers over the past few weeks show he's still favoured in several key swing states. Some polls showed that was beginning to happen even before the debate. Of the 58 million viewers who tuned in to watch, most of whom are in the U.S., seeing Romney at what many describe as his best day yet in the campaign surely helped.
He and his running mate Paul Ryan were expected to stump later Thursday in Virginia, a crucial battleground that Obama won in 2008, despite the state being red for the past 50 years.
Also equally important to note is Wednesday was just the first round of three, with the two set to debate again in New York and then Florida later this month.
And Vice President Joe Biden and Romney's No. 2, Paul Ryan, will square off next week in Kentucky.
Given Biden is a political veteran and a fiery champion of the middle class who suffers from foot-in-mouth disease, and Ryan is inexperienced as a national politician having only ever won a Wisconsin congressional riding -- albeit it six times consecutively -- while Wednesday was devoid of gaffes, next week's match-up could be full of them.
And that could change the race again.