Obama supporters told me they watched the debate in a perplexed fury. Some yelled at their televisions, trying to supply Obama with snappier answers as if they were watching Wheel of Fortune. Others turned off the debate halfway through, unable to take it.
"I was not happy," said Diann Simpson, a 65-year-old Ford retiree from Denver who said her daughter was "even more pissed off" at Obama. "I don't know what his endgame is. As many lies as Romney told last night, you got to get him back!"
They blamed the media: PBS's Jim Lehrer, who moderated the debate, was widely taken to task for letting Romney walk all over him (although Obama actually spoke for four more minutes than Romney overall). "Mitt Romney didn't show polite manners," complained 69-year-old Joe Anderson. "The elderly gentleman running the debate wasn't ready to be overpowered like that."
Some professed nervousness that Romney would get a burst of momentum out of the debate and possibly move ahead in the polls, especially in a closely contested swing state like Colorado. They urged Obama to get more aggressive and unleash tougher personal attacks -- something Romney's rank-and-file supporters are always telling me they wish he would do, too.
"Obama was a guy who came to a gunfight with a knife," said Beverly Bunker, an unemployed education consultant from the south Denver suburb of Centennial. "He was too nice! There was no 47 percent. He didn't talk about Bain. He didn't bring up women's rights and he only sort of skimmed by offshoring jobs." Voters, she fretted, would believe Romney's slick lines even if Obama's supporters knew better.
When Obama took the stage -- tieless, in a dark-blue windbreaker and khakis -- he offered his own spin on the debate, though he made no acknowledgement of his own listlessness.
"When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama said. "But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney, because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow onstage last night said he didn't know anything about that."
Romney, he said, did "not want to be held accountable for...what he's been saying for the last year, and that's because he knows full well that we don't want what he's been selling for the last year." He took Romney to task for saying he'd cut funding for public broadcasting: "I mean, thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It's about time. We didn't know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit."
Obama seemed to relish the mockery of Romney, and the crowd did too. But with the president loose, on his game, and hurling attack lines, his supporters couldn't help but wonder: Where was this guy last night?