Was this Obama's Jimmy Carter moment? President's woeful debate compared to 1980 TV disaster that handed Reagan victory
- Barack Obama's lacklustre performance in first debate was worse than Carter in 1980, according to one commentator
- Carter lost to Reagan in landslide after challenger charmed America with laid-back demeanour in TV clash
- Mitt Romney came out swinging last night as he came face to face with Obama for the first time
- Accused President of misleading references to '$5trillion tax cut' and compared him to his children
- CNN poll shows overwhelming victory for Romney as voters say Republican is better leader than President
- Obama was 'off his game', says Democratic strategist as liberal commentator describes night as 'a disaster'
- President 'looked like he needed a teleprompter' according to comedian Bill Maher
Barack Obama has been savaged over his performance in last night's presidential debate, with one commentator even suggesting that he was less effective than the hapless Jimmy Carter.
Even those who have been the President's most enthusiastic cheerleaders in the past lined up to denounce the evening as a 'disaster' for Mr Obama, and worried that Mitt Romney's resounding win would allow him to turn around his struggling campaign.
Prominent Obama fans admitted the President as 'off his game', with one even saying: 'I don't know what he was doing out there.'
But perhaps the most stinging blow came from the Right, with one conservative commentator quipping: 'Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public. Actually, that’s an insult to Jimmy Carter.'
Mr Romney was on the offensive during the debate in Denver, shining in what was arguably the most high-profile moment of his political career so far.
Scroll down for video
The Republican challenger denounced Mr Obama's performance over the past four years, and at one point compared the President's behaviour to that of his sons when they were children.
‘Look, I’ve got five boys,' he said. 'I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it.’
Conservative columnist Charles Hurt wrote in the Washington Times that 'President Obama flailed all around the debate stage', adding: 'It was like he had been called in front of the principal after goofing around for four years and blowing off all his homework.'
He argued that the President looked out of his depth compared to the self-assurance of Mr Romney, and said: 'Who knew anyone on the planet could make Mitt Romney look easy, relaxed, smooth and human?'
Mr Hurt concluded: 'Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public. Actually, that’s an insult to Jimmy Carter.'
Mr Carter, the 39th President, lost in a landslide against Mr Reagan after a televised debate between the two which was widely seen as a disaster for the incumbent.
When Mr Carter attacked his plans for Medicare, a frequent Democratic talking point, the former governor of California famously replied: 'There you go again.'
HOW CARTER BLEW IT IN 1980: RELIVING THE CLASSIC DEBATE WHICH SENT REAGAN INTO THE WHITE HOUSE
THE BEST ZINGERS IN FULL
Andrew Sullivan, a respected centrist who is a strong supporter of the President, criticised Mr Obama's 'meandering, weak, professorial arguments' on the Daily Beast.
He added: 'This was a disaster for the President for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.
'Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there.'
In a crushing verdict on the President's 'terrible' performance, Mr Sullivan concluded: 'He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight.'
James Carville, a Democratic strategist who helped mastermind Bill Clinton's 1992 election victory, admitted to CNN: 'I don’t think that President Obama did what this campaign wanted him to do.'
But he argued that Mr Romney had been overly aggressive, saying: 'President Obama came in, he wanted to have a conversation. It takes two people to have a conversation. Mitt Romney came in with a chainsaw.'
Television host Chris Matthews was just one of MSNBC's leading personalities to rail against the President's performance - and suggested that he should not have held back on attacking Mr Romney's business career and political gaffes.
'I don't know what he was doing out there,' Mr Matthews said. 'He had his head down, he was enduring the debate rather than fighting it. Romney, on the other hand, came in with a campaign.
'What was Romney doing? He was winning.'
Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor who is one of the Left's leading intellectuals, wrote on Twitter: 'R[omney] was polished, passionate, and energetic, and 100 per cent wrong. O[bama] was the opposite.'
Comedian Bill Maher, who has donated $1million to a Democratic super-PAC, expressed frustration over Mr Obama's lacklustre performance in a series of acid tweets throughout the debate.
At one point, he said: 'Romney looks more confident and energetic - he's about a minute away from holding Obama down and cutting his hair.'
He later added: 'Obama's not looking like he came for a job interview, Romney so far does.'
Reflecting a frequent Republican criticism of the President, Mr Maher wrote: 'I can't believe I'm saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter.'
Outspoken filmmaker Michael Moore wrote:'This is what happens when you pick John Kerry as your debate coach.'
Mr Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who was on the losing side in the 2004 presidential election, stood in for Mr Romney during the President's debate preparation.
Leading figures on the right were predictably quick to hail Mr Romney's performance and criticise the President.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted: 'Surprise! Romney better than strongest supporters hoped for. Aced Obama. All polls narrowed last few days. This may be turning point.'
CNN analyst David Gergen, who has worked for four presidents, said of Mr Obama: 'I don’t think anybody’s ever spoken to him like that over the last four years. I think he found that not only surprising, but offensive in some ways.'
Despite the debate results, Mr Obama carries a slender margin in the latest Reuters poll, which showed him hanging on with 46 per cent of the vote, ahead of Mr Romney on 41 per cent.
From the outset of the debate, Mr Romney chided Mr Obama for promising to halve America’s annual deficit but instead doubling it and even compared him to a little boy who can’t tell the truth.
Hitting Mr Obama with a blizzard of statistics, Mr Romney also hit back hard at what he saw as the President mischaracterising his plans: ‘Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.'
Mr Romney was at the top of his game from the outset, coming across as pithier and punchier than Mr Obama, who seemed taken aback by being confronted so relentlessly and struggled to speak concisely.
The challenger's dominance came despite his having four minutes less talking time than the incumbent - Mr Romney spoke for 38 minutes and 32 seconds, while Mr Obama held the spotlight for 42 minutes and 50 seconds.
A CNN poll of registered voters who watched the debate reflected Mr Romney's perceived victory, as 67 per cent of respondents regarded him as the night's winner compared to just 25 per cent for Mr Obama.
Additionally, 58 per cent thought that the Republican came across as a stronger leader than the Democrat, while twice as many said the evening had made them more likely to vote for Mr Romney as said they were swayed towards the President.
At the start, Mr Obama tried to make the debate about the next four years rather than his four years in office, saying: ‘The question here tonight is not where we've been but where we're going.’
But Mr Romney pummelled him repeatedly on the state of the economy. ‘The people who are having the hard time right now are middle-income Americans. Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried,’ he said.
‘They’re just being crushed. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a tax in and of itself. I’ll call it the economy tax. It’s been crushing.
‘At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up. Food prices are up. Health care costs have gone up by $2,500 a family. Middle-income families are being crushed.’
He added: ‘The President said that he’d cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately, he doubled it.'
Mr Obama spent much of the debate looking down at his notes and pursing his lips as Mr Romney spoke. He also appeared hesitant at time and his occasional attempts at humour fell flat.
While Mr Romney maintained his aggressive stance throughout, Mr Obama was surprisingly gentle on his opponent, failing to mention common attack lines on subjects such as Bain Capital outsourcing, the notorious '47 per cent' video and the supposed Republican ‘war on women’.
But Mr Romney declared: 'This is bigger than an election about the two of us as individuals. It’s bigger than our respective parties. It’s an election about the course of America.'