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Obama bests Romney for second time -- but was Mitt's Denver win the only one that matters?

Most observers believe that Barack Obama won last night's third and final presidential debate, giving him his second win in a row over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. But much of the post-debate analysis suggested that this victory won't matter much in the cosmic scheme of things. The theory: Romney's decisive triumph in Denver earlier this month reset the race, and the results of subsequent face-offs are unlikely to change things much. Why not?

For one thing, viewership of last night's match-up was down, and down considerably, from that of the pairing at the University of Denver, thanks to the subject matter (foreign policy, hardly the hottest topic of campaign season) and some seriously attractive counter-programming: the Monday Night Football tilt between the Chicago Bears (featuring ex-Broncos Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall) and the seventh and deciding game of the National League Championship Series, in which the San Francisco Giants sent the St. Louis Cardinals packing.

Moreover, Romney's Denver performance was perfectly timed, giving undecided voters who may not have been paying attention to the contest up until that point a positive impression. Such folks likely didn't realize Romney was changing many of the positions he'd been running on for months -- something he did last night as well, when he wasn't pivoting to the economy or overusing the word "tumult." And since most of them probably aren't political junkies, they may have skipped the other debates whether or not there was more entertaining stuff on other channels.

Besides, those who tuned in last night didn't see a Romney implosion along the lines of a declaration that during the next war he starts, he'll institute a draft focusing on the 47 percent of America feeding from the government teat. He managed to avoid big mistakes by steering clear of bold initiatives or attacks on Obama administration actions he didn't seem to understand terribly well. And that may have been enough.

An AP story about the debates spotlighted two watch parties in Denver -- one primarily attended by Republicans, the latter principally a Democratic affair. The piece notes that the GOP crowd's attention began to drift toward the football game at about the midpoint of the back-and-forth, while the Dems were more tuned in throughout and happy with the results. But given the short-attention span from which so many of us suffer these days, they were likely the exceptions.

In our post-DU debate analysis, we asked the following: "Could the results put Denver in the position of unmaking the presidency of a man the city helped to put there in the first place?" Despite Obama's comebacks in debates two and three, the question remains valid.

Here's last night's debate in its entirety.

More from our Politics archive: "Videos: Obama cites Aurora theater shooting in second debate with Romney."