Mitt Romney's solid debate performance Wednesday night gives him the type of energy and momentum that President Barack Obama now will have to work overtime to undo.
"The thing that this debate did is it gave people reasons to think about (a) President Romney," said John Geer, chairman of Vanderbilt University's political science department. "This often happens with challengers in the first debate. Now Obama needs to reconnect with the American public and (make the case of) why he should be re-elected."
According to a CNN/ORC International survey conducted immediately after the debate, 67% of registered voters who watched the debate said that the Republican nominee won, with one in four saying that President Barack Obama was victorious. Before the debate, however, another CNN/ORC national poll of likely voters showed that 56% felt Obama would win.
What a difference a night makes.
But poor initial debate performances rarely shift the tide of an election, experts say.
"Obama can afford to lose this one," said Melissa Wade, a debate professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Historically, losing the first debate has the least impact on an incumbent president, she said.
According to an analysis by Gallup, televised debates have affected the outcome of only two elections in the past half century -- Nixon-Kennedy in 1960 and Bush-Gore in 2000.
Still, the stakes for Romney to pull off a good performance were high and, according to post-debate polls and commentators, he dominated the president.
"Romney has a message and he was finally able to deliver it. He stopped playing small ball," Geer said. "Romney gets to play offense for a while. He can stress the message 'we can't afford another four years of this.' Talk about how (he's) going to get command of the economy. He has facts. The guy is smart."
Obama now faces the task of recovering from his debate stumble.