Obama didn’t seem especially energetic during his prep sessions, telling supporters at a campaign office in Las Vegas that the process was “a drag,” according to a pool report. And late in the sessions, Obama’s team brought in veteran Washington attorney Bob Barnett, an expert on debating, to sharpen the performance of Sen. John Kerry, who played Romney in the warm ups.

Even as strategists downplayed the likely electoral impact of the debate, one Democrat close to Chicago conceded that Obama “was not happy with his performance.”

“Don’t expect to see that Barack Obama again,” the Democrat said.