Mitt Romney's a contender after Obama's flat debate performance

President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Romney share a laugh at the end of the first presidential debate in Denver Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

There's a new mystery in America. What exactly was President Obama doing for the last four days?

We were told he was hunkered down in a resort in Nevada preparing for the debate. But surely that can't have been the case, because this was a poor, faltering, ill-disciplined performance. We don't often say that of President Obama.

For someone often called the most gifted communicator of his generation, this was actually lamentable.

There was no memorable line, nothing that seized the initiative, no single thought that captured our imagination, no zinger that will be replayed by the cable TV news channels.

Republican presidential nominee Romney (L) and President Obama shake hands before the debate

I've received messages from Democrats not so much disappointed as angry. Why did the President cede so much ground to Mitt Romney? Why didn't he talk about saving the car industry? About Bain Capital? Why didn't he confront Romney about his 47% comments?

To his credit, Romney came prepared and he looked authoritative and Presidential. That's not just my view. Liberal commentators and the Democrat-leaning MSNBC news channel are praising Romney's controlled performance.

Instant polling of TV viewers show Romney easily won the debate over Obama (46% to 22% according to CBS; 67% to 25% says CNN).

Mitt Romney was the clear "winner" of the debate

Republicans are thrilled. Fox News is exultant. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol tweeted: "Best debate performance by a GOP Presidential candidate in more than two decades."

And Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted half way through the debate:

But it still leaves a big question for Republicans: Did Romney win over enough undecided voters in battleground states to transform the race? We will have to wait a few days before we know the answer.

However, we can say this: His supporters are energized by what happened last night. Many others are giving him a second look.

Mitt Romney is back in the race. He's a contender. Game on.