There's no denying the political drama that goes with a presidential debate.
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney squared off for the first of a series of debates Wednesday and, to hear the pundits and polls score the event, Romney won decisively.
Even the president's liberal supporters complained about his passive demeanor and inability to throw a roundhouse or two in Romney's direction. Conversely, Republicans were euphoric over Romney's aggressive, disciplined and businesslike appearance.
But here's a word of warning to both sides: There's an ebb and flow to every campaign. After a tough couple of weeks, it is, at least for now, Romney's turn in the political sun.
But the bottom line remains the same — the race for the presidency remains extremely close. Obama has been leading in the polls, particularly in the swing states. Whether and how much one debate, or even a series of debates, changes that remains to be seen.
History shows that debates have been both decisive (Kennedy/Nixon and Reagan/Carter) and inconsequential (Reagan/Mondale and George W. Bush/Kerry). How much of an impact this year's debate(s) will have will be determined by political analysts long after the ballots cast before and on Nov. 6 are counted.
The bottom line, at least for now, is that voters have a choice between two candidates offering a different vision and a different course for America.
There is no question the U.S. economy is in the dumps, with high unemployment and lagging growth. Obama blames, with some justification, the housing bust and near-collapse of the banking systems on his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
It's debatable whether Bush policies caused those disasters, but there is no question Obama inherited a difficult situation.
After four years in office, Obama contends that his stimulus package and business bailouts have improved circumstances considerably and laid the foundation for future prosperity. Romney, not surprisingly, disputes that, contending Obama's economic cure-alls simply haven't worked and that a new market-oriented approach is needed to produce the kind of economic growth that will get people back to work and raise the new revenues the federal government needs to both meet its obligations and put an end to annual $1 trillion deficits.
That was what Wednesday's debate was really about, although the two men sparred about their tax policies, the fallout of Obamacare, education reform and energy independence.
There is no question that Romney cut an impressive figure as he launched, politely and respectfully, one criticism after another on Obama policies. But that should have come as no surprise to those familiar with his vast experience in the private and public sector.
As for Obama, his supporters may feel he was insufficiently prepared and engaged, but he still cuts an impressive figure while advocating a wide variety of large and costly government programs to address people's various needs.
Voters won't be electing the best debater in November, they'll be electing a president. Romney helped himself considerably, but this is a long way from being over.