But where Reagan won with style and quips -- "There you go again" -- and his closing line, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Romney crushed Obama on both substance and style.
Mitt was like a contender so keyed up by his title shot that, between rounds, he could not sit on his stool, but stood in his corner to rush out and re-engage the champ the instant the bell sounded for the next round.
Obama was mauled, with facts, figures, anecdotes, arguments, jokes, quips. A smiling Romney was on offense all night. And the president's performance seems inexplicable.
With the split screen showing his response to Romney's swarm attacks, he appeared diffident, sullen, pouting, flustered, petulant.
Obama made no serious blunder. Yet, on the split screen, as Romney lectured him with a stern smile, Obama seemed a chastened schoolboy, head down, being instructed by a professor that if he did not get his grades up he would not be back next semester.
The verdict on the Denver encounter -- that Romney turned in the performance of his life and one of the most impressive in the history of presidential debates, and that the president underperformed, was outclassed and lost badly -- was virtually unanimous.
Indeed, liberal columnists and commentators are among those most angered and appalled at Obama's performance.
Why did he not fight back, they ask, with all the ammunition at his disposal?
The defense being offered by the Obama spinners is that Mitt was brazenly changing positions right up there on stage, that he was not telling the truth about his positions, that he was misstating facts.
But that leaves a glaring question. Why, then, didn't the president call him out? To this they have no answer.
Where does the race stand, a month from Election Day?
Members of the Republican commentariat who were grousing that Mitt had blown it may now become enthusiastic again, as clearly this race is far from over. Folks in the grandstand who were heading for the exit ramps are heading back to their seats.
We have a brand new ballgame here.
But if the campaign of 2012 is not lost, not by a long shot, it is not won, either.