Here's what we know so far:
The first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney changed the direction of the campaign. In the two-plus weeks since that debate Obama's lead in national polls and nearly every battleground state poll has shrunk or Romney has pulled ahead.
The second debate, which most observers believe Obama won on style points, has had no effect on the race whatsoever.
In all three tracking polls, Romney gained one percentage point and is now +2 over Obama in the Rasmussen track; +7 in the Gallup track, and even in the IDB track. Romney was -1 on the day of the debate.
I am not changing my opinion that Obama won that debate. That's not the issue. The issue is: Did his winning have any effect on likely voters?
We'll have more data later today and we might see a swing back toward Obama, but even if we do, October has been the cruelest month for the Obama campaign.
On September 30 - following a full five weeks of Romney being off-message because of a hurricane that missed Tampa, an empty chair, the Democrats' convention, and an ill-advised press release following the attack in Benghazi - Obama was leading in the Real Clear Politics summary of polls by an average of 4.0 percentage points.
As of last night, as I was typing this, following two debates, an unemployment report that showed progress and new (but damaging) information about Libya, Romney is now at +1 in the RCP average.
That, even for people like me who are mathematically challenged, is a swing of five percentage points.
I am torn because I have a hard time believing the Gallup numbers from yesterday: Romney +7 (52-45) but I didn't have any trouble believing the Gallup tracking poll on October 1 when it had Obama +6 (50-44).
It appears that the second debate may not have had the effect on the race that the Obama's supporters hoped for.
Maybe it is because, as The Lad wrote in his analysis of the debate on Jedburghs.com:
"Barack Obama won tonight's debate on points, not because he beat Mitt Romney, but because he beat the Barack Obama of two weeks ago."
The problem for the Obamas is that we are down to 18 days to go and the tide is running strongly in Romney's favor.
Will it turn before November 6? Don't know. But I do know that any candidate would rather be running with the tide than swimming against it, no matter where you are in the campaign cycle.
As we have been saying for 18 months, the Obama campaign simply cannot survive this election if it is a referendum on the last four years.
The Obama campaign has to make this a comparison between the individuals - Barack Obama and Mitt Romney - and it has spent somewhere near a half BILLION dollars demonizing Romney.
That first debate changed the course of the campaign because some 68 million viewers got to see for themselves what the two men looked like side-by-side.
The 65 million who saw the second debate watched a Barack Obama being the Barack Obama they had expected to see two weeks earlier. He met their expectations.
When you are trying to be rehired for a job that affects the lives of every person on the planet Earth, "Met Expectations" may simply not be a good enough grade.