By most accounts, Republican challenger Mitt Romney was the clear winner of Wednesday's first debate with President Barack Obama. Romney engaged the incumbent while Obama looked down at his lectern. The challenger was a more forceful debater while Obama appeared less than engaged.
Here are five things we learned on Wednesday.
1. Romney wins by setting the tone
The crucial and tone-setting first 30 minutes of the debate belonged to Romney.
Romney appeared practiced, at ease, confident and fluent in all things Obama. He aggressively criticized the president's record while also outlining, however vaguely, his own ideas about taxes and the deficit. Obama -- his answers slow, dry and cautious -- looked shaky.
When the sparring turned to taxes -- an issue on which voters trust Obama over Romney, according to polls -- Romney played down legitimate questions about his tax plan and stressed again and again that he wants to reduce taxes on middle income families.
He seized on Vice President Joe Biden's latest verbal miscue about how the middle class has been "buried" by the policies of the last four years.
"Under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried," Romney said. "They're just being crushed. Middle income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a tax in and of itself. I'll call it the economy tax. It's been crushing."
Obama had a chance to brush his opponent back by hammering home the fact that Romney has been strikingly vague in explaining just how he would pay for an across the board 20% tax cut without cutting cherished tax deductions.
Instead, a lethargic Obama veered into a plodding, numbers-based criticism of Romney's tax plan that was a far cry from his campaign trail rallying cries about how Republicans favor the rich.
Obama's performance in the first part of the debate called to mind a segment on "The Daily Show" in the early days of the Obama administration, when Jon Stewart teased the newly burdened president's press conferences as boring and uninspiring -- a far cry from the inspirational figure of 2008.
Romney entered the encounter with Obama battered, weary and under fire from his fellow Republicans. At the end of the night, he stood on equal footing in a 90-minute debate with the president of the United States. That's a win.
2. Romney holds his own
It was the biggest question coming into this first showdown: Could Romney seem presidential standing next to the Obama?
The answer appears to be yes.
"He held his own against the president of the United States, and for a Republican challenger that's pretty good," commented CNN's Wolf Blitzer, chief anchor of the network's political coverage.
"Romney at least held his own on the big questions: On the economy and the role of government," added CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. "When you're the challenger and you at least hold your own with the president of the United States in the very first debate, you walk off the stage happy."
Romney's campaign was thrilled with its candidate's performance.
"If it was a boxing match, it would have been called," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to the former Massachusetts governor. "I've got to believe that the heels on the president's shoes are worn down from being back on them for 90 minutes."
As you can imagine, the Obama campaign saw the debate very differently.
"(Romney) was on defense all night long," said David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president.
It appears debate watchers think Romney passed the test every challenger faces in trying to stand with an incumbent president. According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted right after the session, 67% of debate watchers questioned said that Romney won. One in four said Obama was victorious.
3. Missed opportunities
Heading into the debate, there was a belief, an expectation that Obama would challenge Romney on the infamous 47% remark in an attempt to paint the former Massachusetts governor as a cold-hearted patrician with little empathy for the middle class and poor. If executed correctly, it could have put Romney on defense and changed the tenor of the debate.
Obama didn't do it, which turned out to be a major mistake.