In hindsight, I should have made another prediction. I knew going into the debate that people were expecting President Obama to decisively defeat Romney. And those expectations were going to greatly aid Romney.
It's safe to say now that Mitt Romney greatly aided Romney during the debate. He came across as well informed, intelligent, articulate, and Presidential. The post debate narrative (and instant polling) pretty much confirms it. All that's left to do is wait for the polls to come out today and tomorrow. And then wait for the BLS' labor report on Friday.
It's no surprise that Romney did very well during the first debate. The guy isn't a moron. He's hyper competent and extremely intelligent. What's telling is that the Democrats have portrayed him as ruthless, out of touch, and uncaring. What they can't do is say this guy isn't ready to be President.
One thing that I think greatly aided Romney was Obama's praise of Romney's governorship in Massachusetts. To hear it from the horse's mouth that his opponent is actually a reasonable and competent guy will be immensely reassuring to the electorate. This is something that Obama is going to have to work on for the next two debates.
Another issue, which was brought up a few times in the post-debate analysis on CNN (and probably other channels), was that there was so much negative ads directed at Mitt Romney himself. People were treated to a polite, intelligent, and concerned Romney who was focused on getting Americans back to work. It throws into relief a sharp contrast between what the Democrats say Mitt Romney is and what the electorate saw on Wednesday night.
There are three more debates after this. I think the Vice Presidential debate is going to be a win for Paul Ryan and the Republicans while the 2nd Presidential debate will be more or less a wash. The 3rd debate should break in Romney's favor as well.
What focus groups and internal polling probably suggest (although I don't have access to either) is that Americans are looking for an excuse to vote for the challenger. But the first thing voters need to know is that the challenger represents, at the very least, a plausible alternative. I think tonight, Romney showed that, not only is he a plausible alternative, he is an increasingly appealing alternative.