President Obama was often grim, mostly disengaged, and generally ineffective in their first showdown. He could have been standing next to anyone; he never seriously challenged Romney on any point he made. Romney was sharp, aggressive, and "likeable enough," to borrow a phrase from candidate Obama in 2008.
For much of the debate, Romney not Obama offered up the anecdotes that connect a candidate with the people. He also had the soundbites that stick, like "trickle-down government" and "you just pick the losers," a reference to Obama's selection of green energy companies like Solyndra. But mostly he had command of the stage and of debate moderator Jim Lehrer.
Obama must have spent his debate prep reading his poll numbers instead of history, particularly as it applies to Romney's debating skills. In 2002, Romney won his only political office governor of Massachusetts by out-debating Democrat Shannon O'Brien.
But before that, Romney took the venerable Ted Kennedy by surprise. As the late, great Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan wrote after the first debate in that legendary showdown: " . . . I give Round One to Mitt Romney."
In Nyhan's view, "the old war horse" Kennedy had "too much going for him." He predicted he would come roaring back to win, and he did.
Obama could, too. If he doesn't, he will never again have to fret about spending another wedding anniversary in front of 40 million people.