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THE DAY AFTER: If last night were a heavyweight fight, Mitt Romney would have easily won on rounds. The GOP challenger didn't deliver anything close to a knockout blow to President Obama, but the former governor was certainly the one who looked more comfortable as he controlled the flow of much of the 90 minutes the two men spent together on the Denver stage.
FWIW: Romney actually spoke for about four fewer minutes than the president, but that didn't stop him from winning the word-count war by 541 words.
BUT BEFORE WE LOOK BACK: Let's look forward. John Dickerson: "This was Mitt Romney’s best night of the campaign. Now he has to sustain it. In the past, debates haven’t stuck with voters for long. There wasn’t one Romney moment that voters could take home and replay at work the next day. Romney seemed competent and in command, but how does that get passed around to other voters? Perhaps it’s enough that many voters who were looking at him for the first time didn’t see an indifferent millionaire. But his reputation for ideological malleability may help the Obama team argue that Romney is reinventing himself again. That will probably mean a pretty brutal round of charges about his ability to tell the truth. As the campaign heads deeper into October, the president is going to have to regroup, shake off the chill, and turn up the heat."
SPEAKING OF THE BIG MO: The Atlantic's Beth Reinhard: "Time and time again over the course of this campaign, Romney has surged only to step on his own momentum. And with 33 days before Election Day and early voting well underway, Romney has got to massage a solid debate performance into a winning streak. ... Romney has got to seize his most pointed attacks from the debate—interrupting the president to remind him 'but you've been president for four years!'—and hit that message hard, again and again. ... Perhaps most importantly, Romney needs to continue painting a picture of a second Obama term that looks even worse than the status quo."
OBAMA'S PATH FORWARD: The New York Times' Mark Landler and Peter Baker: "President Obama and his team woke up ... on Thursday morning confronted by the realization that he lost his first debate .... Then the president and his advisers resolved to do what he himself did not the night before. Under fire from fellow Democrats, Mr. Obama came out swinging, accusing Mr. Romney of lying to the American people about his plans for the nation."
NEXT DAY ZINGER: "I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama told supporters today. "But it couldn’t be 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."
ADVICE: The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan: "[T]he obvious response to this new Romney is to say: now you've gone into a debate and denied you are lowering taxes on the wealthy: prove it. Show us where the new revenues come from or at least which are on your chopping block (sorry, PBS won't solve the problem). The end of all corporate welfare? The end of the mortgage deduction? The charity deduction? Where is the money coming from? More to the point, you have to provide much more savings in the tax code than Simpson-Bowles, if you are also going to take us to higher-than-Cold-War 'defense' spending, as you have also promised. How will that not mean a net shift from the already struggling middle class to the super-rich?"
NEXT UP: Friday's jobs report. The Washington Post's Neil Irwin looks ahead: "While the September jobs report will offer important information on the economic backdrop heading into the final month of the presidential campaign, it would be surprising if the report offered a picture of the economy that was wildly different from what recent months have shown, which is: Job creation is steady but too sluggish to bring down unemployment meaningfully over time."
Happy Thursday and welcome to The Slatest PM, where your afternoon host loves the day after major political events because it's the only time his Facebook feed is filled with something other than baby photos. Follow the entire @slatest team and @JoshVoorhees on Twitter, or fill your host's inbox with whatever is your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT LOSING LOOKED LIKES: Weigel: "[F]ive stoic strategists for the Obama campaign camped out in the spin room. They do not deny that Mitt Romney just beat the president on all the points that count in TV debates. How can they, when even the foreign press, heavy in accent and fond of existential questions, keeps asking why the president blew it?"
WHAT WINNING LOOKED LIKE: Weigel, again from Denver: "Mitt Romney’s strategists saying they won on everything, substance included. Romney’s recently maligned Svengali, Stu Stevens, speaks about the president with acidic pity. 'I don’t think he had a bad debate,' he says. 'He had a bad four years.' I ask him if voters were following the flurry of buzzwords and references to plans that Obama started and Romney matched—Simpson-Bowles, tax studies, National Federation of Independent Businesses studies. 'People say they want substance, then they go—Oh, this is too wonky,' says Stevens."
WHAT FOX NEWS LOOKED LIKE: Troy Patterson: "Bill O'Reilly was bloviating in a grander and juicier style than usual last night. Before the debate, O'Reilly said, 'This exposition tonight has the potential to get rowdy.' Now, I believe that O'Reilly knows the actual meanings of the words he says. In the aggregate, the 'coherence' of these words into ideas does not often amount to much, but he knows what he is saying. He zestily chose exposition for the cigar-chomping grandeur of it and for the carnival barker's hustle. How could he not?"
WHAT TWITTER LOOKED LIKE: Before the debate was over, the site was littered with retweets of mocking, elipsis-filled comments from a gimmick handle named @SilentJimLehrer. A typical tweet went something like this: "...er...okay so...now..." As things wrapped up on stage in Denver, even the real Jim Lehrer appeared to realize he'd delivered a less-than-stellar performance as the debate's moderator. "I’m not going to grade the two of you and say your answers have been too long or I’ve done a poor job," he said, not saying what the rest of us were thinking at that moment. But did Lehrer really do that bad of a job? Your afternoon host takes a closer look.
FACTS! Politico's got a roundup of what the independent fact-checkers had to say the day after both candidates lobbed numbers and general mentions of studies, plans, and white papers back and forth.
THE NEWEST FACT-CHECKER ON THE SCENE: Is Reddit, says the Atlantic.
DEBATE QUICK HITS—
SurveyMonkey: Just How Badly Did Romney Crush Obama Last Night?
CHECKING THE TRAPS FOR NONDEBATE NEWS—
AP: "A team of FBI agents arrived in Benghazi, Libya, to investigate the terror attack on the U.S. Consulate and left within 24 hours, as the hunt for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans narrowed to one or two people in a local extremist group who may have had something to do with the attack, U.S. officials said Thursday."
Reuters: "Turkey stepped up retaliatory artillery strikes on a Syrian border town on Thursday, killing several Syrian soldiers, while its parliament approved further military action in the event of another spillover of the Syrian conflict."
WSJ: "Mr. Zuckerberg said Thursday that Facebook Inc., the social network he started in his Harvard dorm eight years ago, reached the milestone of 1 billion active members on Sept. 14. The Menlo Park, Calif., company reached 500 million active users in just July 2010, making it one of the fastest-growing sites in history."
NYT: "After seven years of litigation, Google and book publishers said on Thursday that they had reached a settlement to allow Google to digitize books and journals."
We'll see you back here tomorrow. But, until then, tell your friends to subscribe here or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.