Partisan Democrat here who thinks President Obama will be re-elected. Having said that, I wanted to muse about why the grand strategy of demonizing Romney as a caricature of a human being, a goofy, unqualified robot, failed as soon as the two candidates were on stage together.
Leaving aside the questions of why Obama performed the way he did that first debate, I think of Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, whose campaigns depended similarly on the demonization strategy. Both Reagan and GW Bush, it was held, were too stupid and too crazy to be President. That set a low bar for two experienced politicians to take the stage and prove they were neither (or at least pretend convincingly they were neither). So it was with Mitt Romney. The Daddy Warbucks-with-foot-in-mouth didn't show up because that caricature doesn't give Mitt enough credit. More below...
...So in a sense the Democrats have a habit of telling the country that the Republicans have nominated something like a stooge, and thus even a marginally credible performance in the first debate looks like a dramatic upset victory, the political equivalent of the "Miracle on Ice."
Republicans demonize our candidates too, of course. McGovern: too far left for America. Dukakis: out of his league on foreign policy and crime. Carter: too wonky and micromanagerial. Kerry: flipfloppy and effete. But note that they didn't call any of these people stupid, or say that they were patently unqualified -- with one exception.
The only one they really went all out on saying he was unqualified to be President was Barack Obama, and John McCain's lead evaporated forever when the public began to see Obama in the flesh, at the lectern, debating as a smart, calm, Presidential kind of person.
Thus I'm suggesting that our side file this away: anyone who can get the nomination of a major party for President probably went to Harvard or Yale or Columbia; was probably a governor or a Senator; may be wrong-headed on the issues, but folks, none of these people are morons or idiots or caricatures, and it's not surprising that first debates have a habit of undoing the "bozo" meme in voters' minds.
Having said that, Go Barack! I'm going to HQ to make some phone calls.