After a widely criticized performance in this week's debate, President Obama proved he's not immune to the pitfalls of the modern presidential campaign cycle. But the president can take solace in a look back at history: He's hardly the first sitting president to flub the first debate of a general election campaign - and he wouldn't be the first to win the election despite it, either.
According to Alan Schroeder, a professor at Northeastern University and the author of "Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV," the president joins a long line of incumbent presidents -- including Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes -- who essentially bombed their first time back in the ring.
"More often than not, the first debates have been very difficult for incumbent presidents," he said. "They're out of practice, which is a big part of it, they don't have as much time to devote to debate preparation as people whose full-time job is running for office."
Not to mention the fact that most sitting presidents aren't used to being directly challenged even in the privacy of the West Wing - much less in front of 50+ million viewers on live national television.
"There's kind of an attitude adjustment," Schroeder said. "Presumably the debate was a wake-up call for Obama. I remember back in 2000, Al Gore had a really bad first debate, and when the 'Saturday Night Live' parody came out, his advisers forced him to watch it. I'm wondering whether the Obama people might not have a similar thought after this weekend."
Terry Holt, a Republican strategist who worked on George W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, recalled the aftermath of the Republican incumbent's weak showing in the first debate of the general election - though he brushed off the notion that Mr. Obama's situation is comparable.
"After three or four days of ruminating about how they did, the president hunkered down," Holt said. "President Bush recognized that the debates were important moments and that he couldn't rely on his record and his leadership - that he had to rise to this occasion and be sharp and focused and determined. So he looked at his own debate performance and said, 'I've got to do better.' But it took us awhile to get to that point."
Mr. Obama, a famously intense competitor, is already signaling a possible shift in attitude. While he was panned in the debate for being passive and uninspired, on the campaign trail Thursday he went after Romney aggressively, mocking his one-liners and ribbing his "spirited" performance in Denver.