Does Obama really want to win?

It was not a KO, but nor was it a game changer. But in the post-debate furor, it is safe to say Mitt Romney is back in the race and has Barack Obama to thank for it.

How can a man who has been President for four years with acknowledged achievements leave his game at the door?

Was the Romney gaffe of the 47 per cent an imaginative development as to not merit any mention? Did the Republican party become the moderate, centrist replica of the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower during the space of a 90-minute debate? Obama supporters and mainstream media across the U.S. want to know.

It is not that Mitt Romney was that good. Sure, he seemed focused and presidential, but he didn’t get beyond talking points and was actually fabricating policies on the fly.

But Obama didn’t really challenge him on his job-creation record as Massachusetts governor (47th in the nation), or raise the mixed Bain record on jobs that Romney likes to tout. At times Romney appeared the undisputed champion of a growth economy, the sole promoter of small business, and the architect of a streamlined government. (No reference by Obama that Romney was advocating the same Bush-type policies to spur the economic recovery.)

To be fair, Obama was not a complete disaster as he spoke of healthcare reform, financial reform, job creation and 31 months of continued growth after the worst recession since the Great Depression. And he did make a respectable case for medicare over the Republicans’ voucher program. The problem was his content, rather than its form. No clear message surfaced about his opponent’s policies nor about his own successes as President.

Historically speaking, debates have not determined an election, but they have influenced conversation. Granted, there are few undecided left, and there are two more debates between the two aspirants. With today’s positive job numbers of 7.8 per cent, it is likely Obama’s advantage may return to pre-debate status. The risk, however, is that the President’s lackluster performance may begin to play to the Republican narrative of an “out of touch” chief executive, whose “lack of leadership” was on display in the debate for all to see.

A slow recovery, the uncertainty of world events and the perception of a disconnected President are the last things the Obama campaign needs. The next debate will be crucial. And the pressure will be on Barack Obama to prove he wants four more years.