Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama at end of the final US presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL October 22, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
Partisan supporters of Democrats and Republicans are still arguing the merits of the foreign policy debate last Monday, each claiming victory.
If that sounds vague and inconclusive, that's because it is.
Those least likely to accurately judge the outcome of a political debate are the true believers of both sides.
And the unbiased, "objective" (now there's a laugh) mainstream media are lousy at assessing who won.
In politics, the candidate who makes the most points, has the most facts, is the most aggressive and seems the most knowledgeable, is not necessarily the one voters like the best, and cast their ballots for.
In a 1960 debate, Richard Nixon won points but Jack Kennedy won hearts - and the presidency.
To most observers, the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Paul Ryan, was won by Biden.
But his interruptions, mugging, eye-rolling, phony laugh and condescending manner were so off-putting that by refusing to take the bait and remaining cool and courteous, Ryan may actually have won votes for Mitt Romney.
We'll never know for sure, but it increasingly seems that Biden overplayed his hand.
The previously nice-guy, somewhat buffoonish character whose verbal gaffes were almost endearing, was seen as mean, bullying and unfair.
In the third presidential debate, it was Barack Obama who attacked Romney, who was more concerned with looking moderate and presidential than with winning points.
We'll know next week if the tactic was effective.
Romney stumbled in the second debate when moderator Candy Crowley turned fact-checker and corrected him (wrongly, as it turned out), on Obama initially calling the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi an "act of terror."
Romney was taken aback at the moderator seeming to join the debate on behalf of Obama.
The prez escaped (for the moment) and the topic changed.
Debating points were lost by Romney - but he may have won votes because TV viewers saw what was happening, resented the moderator's intrusion, and felt cheated of finding out why the president waited two weeks before acknowledging that Benghazi was a terrorist attack that had nothing to do with an anti-Islamic video he had implied caused the assault.
To the dismay of some supporters, Romney didn't raise Benghazi in the third debate - possibly because he wanted to look calm, reasonable, presidential.
Besides, media commentators and political smart-asses who think they have all the answers, had discussed and dissected the issue ad infinitum.
The debates showed the voting public that Romney had more substance than the media depicted him as having.
Momentum steadily shifted towards the Republicans. What the media once viewed as a slam-dunk election for Obama is now up for grabs.
Opinion polls say the election is too close to predict. There's a week to go, and changes may be minimal. What can be said with certainty is that one of the contenders will win - and on election day the margin of victory may well be larger than the "experts" expected.
That's one of the positive things about American democracy: The public sometimes ignores polls and collectively makes up its own mind.