I’m a little screwed here. The campaign trail narrative this week is a two-parter:

1) All those polls that have shown President Obama with clear, sometimes commanding, leads over Governor Romney are rigged in favor of Democrats.

2) The mainstream media, wanting their election reporting to remain relevant through Election Day, would undoubtedly declare Romney the winner of last night’s debate, if only to give themselves something more exciting to cover for the next month.

So if I declare Obama the victor of the debate showdown, I’m feeding corruption #1. If it’s Romney, I’m guilty of #2.

Fine then: it’s #1, because only the most partisan Democrat would tell you that the president won the debate held last night at Ritchie Hall on the University of Denver campus.

It wasn’t a Romney rout; this was more like a 13-10 football game in which two boring, low-octane teams spend most of the time slogging between the 30-yard lines. (The blink-off, to my own eyes, gave a slight edge to Obama.) Romney won’t make anyone forget William Jennings Bryan, but he was relatively smooth and confident throughout, even if his cyborgian (yet oddly soothing) voice sometimes eerily mimics Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Obama 2012, meanwhile, only made people long for Obama 2008. He seemed halting and almost disengaged most of the time, and he passed up any chance to hit his opponent with, to borrow a phrase from the Romney-camp, so-called “zingers:” Bain Capital, “the 47 percent,” and many social topics went unmentioned. A debate whose theme was domestic policy passed with not one word, from either candidate, on specific women’s issues. Romney, whose zinger strategy was even more hotly anticipated, didn’t land any real haymakers, either, but he was notably more animated than the president. And in what might be the evening’s biggest upset, Romney was the funny one.

Making the numbingly wonky exchange even less compelling was moderator Jim Lehrer, who firmly laid out his rules beforehand—and then utterly ignored them from the first question on. Both candidates repeatedly ignored Lehrer’s time warnings and talked over his admonishments. This dueling droning—they did 20-plus minutes on a tax discussion that probably had accountants’ eyes glazing over—forced Lehrer to omit an entire section of the debate.

In a word, it was a yawner. And now the polls will tighten. Election Day is November 6. Although tonight’s much-anticipated cage match played more like a pillow fight, the rest of the race should be much more suspenseful.

Some pictures from last night’s media frenzy: