President Barack Obama needed a game-changing night here in Hampstead, New York and Mitt Romney made sure he didn't get it. Over the 90 minutes, Obama might have edged it - just - but strategically he did little if anything to blunt Romney's growing advantage.
Just as Al Gore over-compensated for his poor first debate in 2000, we saw a completely different Obama this time around. He had clearly had some intensive coaching from his debate prep team and was acting under orders to do change everything. Romney strategist Stuart Stevens quipped afterwards that he became 'Joe Biden without the charm'.
The problem is that the difference was so stark it was jarring. And by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Romney - we had tax rates, Bain, big bird and the 47 per cent - there was more than a whiff of desperation. While Obama flung mud, Romney was intent on dismantling Obama's record in office.