BOSTON (CBS) – Taken in isolation, on the boxing-ring basis of who was the aggressor, landing more shots than he took, last night’s presidential debate had a clear winner.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

President Obama was on the attack from the start, frequently indulged in dismissive sarcasm, and in general did all he could to portray Governor Romney as an unqualified fool who could very well lead us into another war. On sheer aggression and the competence of his presentation, it wasn’t really a close match.

But Romney was not incompetent. As always, agree with him or not, he appeared informed and reasonable.

And that’s why the president’s clear win may not turn out to be quite so clear.

We talked yesterday about the failure of the Obama campaign’s strategy to demonize Romney, and how their long, multi-multi-million dollar mudslinging was apparently wiped clean by the first debate, when lo and behold, Mitt Romney did not appear to resemble Satan in any way. The polls suggest that impression has held up through the second presidential debate, and I saw nothing last night that will obviously reverse the trend.

And that spells trouble for the incumbent.

It’s always easier to be the challenger, aiming your potshots at the cracks that inevitably occur in anyone’s record, and it’s been easy for Romney to capitalize on deep voter discontent with the status quo. The tough part for Romney was always going to be fighting off the Obama attack machine and clearing the bar of acceptability for voters who wanted to make a change but were wary of the unknown.

In these debates, Romney has discarded his negative stereotype and cleared that bar.

For him, October has been mission accomplished. And the only remaining mystery may be this: can the president come up with any fresh reasons in these final two weeks for voters who seem to want to fire him to say, no, we’ll give him four more years instead.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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