The immediate reaction to Wednesday night's presidential debate was a torrent of criticism directed at President Obama, with Republicans, and as well as many Democrats, accusing Mr. Obama of delivering a flat, uninspired and defensive performance.
Republicans seemed genuinely surprised that his opponent, Mitt Romney, was energetic, aggressive and presidential during his first-ever general election debate.
"In a thoroughly dominating performance, Romney bested Barack Obama in both tone and substance," Stephen F. Hayes of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine wrote after the debate. "Obama often found himself at the end of a verbal cul-de-sac, seemingly unaware of how he'd ended up there."
At an impromptu appearance Thursday morning in front of a group of Colorado conservative activists, Mr. Romney said the debate was a contrast of "two visions" and said it was "helpful to be able to describe those visions."
At the gathering, Mr. Romney reprised his lines from the debate, saying the president's vision for the country is of "trickle-down government" and criticized Mr. Obama as misleading the public about his plans to cut the deficit.
"Only in Washington would you count $4 trillion in reduction when in fact his plan calls for adding $1 trillion in debt every one of the next four years," Mr. Romney.
Mr. Romney mentioned Vice President Joeph R. Biden Jr.'s comments about the middle class having been "buried" during the last four years -- a word he used during the debate on Wednesday.
"If we continue down his path, there's no question that the middle class, which the vice president noted has been buried, will continue to be buried with higher and higher expenses for gasoline for food for utilities for health insurance," he said.
On Twitter, some of Mr. Obama's Democratic allies expressed anger and disappointment that the president did not make better use of the "47 percent" speech by Mr. Romney and other missteps that the Democratic campaign has spent months honing into attack ads and stump speeches.
Andrew Sullivan, a blogger and strong supporter of Mr. Obama, echoed Peggy Noonan, a former Republican speechwriter, on Twitter, saying that "this is a rolling calamity for Obama." Mr. Sullivan added: "He's boring, abstract, and less human-seeming than Romney!"
And Bill Maher, the liberal comedian who had donated $1 million to a "superPAC" backing Mr. Obama, joked: "I can't believe I'm saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter."
At this point, it remains unclear whether these snap assessments and others made immediately after the debate will be matched by the more sober judgments of voters in the upcoming days. Voters sometimes surprise the pundits by coming to different conclusions about the outcome of a presidential debate.
And Mr. Obama's top strategists predicted that some of Mr. Romney's answers -- in particular, his admissions about the need for a voucher system for Medicare -- would deepen the concern in some communities about Mr. Romney's policies.
"He was unable and unwilling to explain the math behind his $5 trillion tax cut favoring the wealthy, refused to say what rules he'd put in place to protect consumers after repealing Wall Street reform, and didn't offer a single idea to protect families from insurance company abuses after repealing Obamacare," Jim Messina, Mr. Obama's campaign manager, said in a statement after the debate.
The candidates head out to the campaign trail immediately, where Mr. Romney will have to find a way to turn the positive reviews from the debate into a sustained push that changes the dynamic of the race. He is expected to campaign with Representative Paul D. Ryan, his vice-presidential running mate, in Virginia on Thursday evening.
Mr. Obama has been very aggressive of late on the stump, and his scheduled events on Thursday in Denver and Madison, Wis., will give him a quick opportunity to show that energy. But some Democrats charged with helping to elect Mr. Obama in some key swing states privately expressed frustration after the debate Wednesday night that Mr. Obama's lackluster performance made their jobs harder.
The debate was designed to be wonkish, and it did not disappoint. By giving the candidates 15 minutes -- or more -- to discuss each topic, the debate provided that there were plenty of long-winding answers filled with sometimes mind-numbing statistics.
It might have made the exchange boring in the eyes of voters who have come to expect short and fast-paced political combat. There were almost no "zingers" designed to embarrass the other candidate or create a bumper-sticker moment.
Those kinds of "gotcha" moments have sometimes changed the course of an election, as did Gerald Ford's inaccurate contention that there had never been any Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Without such a moment, Wednesday's debate may have less impact.
But the perceived imbalance between the two performances seemed certain to provide at least a temporary bump for Mr. Romney, who had been struggling to reinvigorate a somewhat faltering campaign during the past several weeks. Ahead of the debate, Mr. Romney was trailing slightly in national polls and by larger margins in some battleground states.
Republicans, declaring Mr. Romney the clear winner of the debate, predicted his performance would help him win the election in just over a month.
Democratic strategists for Mr. Obama's campaign were forced to acknowledge Mr. Romney's aggressive performance. Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama's campaign, said on CNN that Mr. Romney "scores points on style."
David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser who ran Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign, said that the president did not bring up some of the attacks that the campaign has made in television ads. He said the "mission tonight was not for zingers."
Ms. Cutter insisted that Mr. Romney did not fundamentally alter the dynamics of the campaign.
"Mitt Romney needed to come in here tonight, not just to win this debate, which challengers normally do, let's face it," Ms. Cutter said on CNN. "He needed to change the entire dynamic of this race. He didn't. He didn't do that because he doubled down on the same policies that have dogged him for the last 18 months."
Even Democratic pollsters said that focus groups they convened during the debate were impressed by Mr. Romney and somewhat surprised by Mr. Obama's lack of an aggressive performance. In a memo released Thursday morning, the Democratic polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner concluded that Mr. Romney had a good night.
"The dial testing and follow-up discussions showed Mitt Romney performing well, improving his personal appeal and a number of important attributes," the firm concluded. "Obama also impressed the group, but not to the same degree as Romney. However, the research does not suggest that Romney fundamentally changed the political calculus in this election."
Both campaigns quickly used the debate to try to raise money for the last month of the race.
In an e-mail sent just after 1 a.m. on the East Coast, Mr. Obama wrote to his supporters: "I hope I made you proud out there explaining the vision we share for this country. Now we need to go win this election -- the most important thing that will happen tonight is what you do (or don't do) to help in the little time we have left."
Earlier in the evening, Mr. Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, both sent e-mails seeking donations for Mr. Romney's campaign.
"After watching tonight's debate, the choice this November could not be clearer," Mr. Rubio said. "A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for four more years of economic stagnation and weak foreign policy; as well as higher taxes, debt, and health care costs."
And by Thursday morning, the campaigns and their allies at the Democratic and Republican National Committees had both produced YouTube videos that they hoped would help spread their message about the debate online.
Mr. Obama's campaign released a video called "Mostly Fiction," in which it accuses Mr. Romney of playing "fast and loose" with the truth during the debate.
"The sharpest observers saw beyond Romney's 'zingers' and witnessed him looking in the eye of those he expects to elect him and tell outright lies about his record on several occasions -- at least 12 times," the campaign said in a news release that accompanied the video.
Republicans produced one called "Smirk," which showed Mr. Obama's reaction during much of the debate. In the video, the president is shown looking down with a grimace on his face, or smirking while Mr. Romney talks about the failures of Mr. Obama's administration.
In the Democratic video, called "What a Guy," the Democratic committee shows Mr. Romney running roughshod over the moderator of the debate, Jim Lehrer, at several points.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.