“Lipitor,” said Edward Kimmel, an attorney, when asked how he stays calm. “I am a political junkie. I see all the talk. It makes me nervous. The first debate was tough. That was kind of like when Ted Kennedy died and we were watching health care slip away, or the night of the 2010 elections. But that just makes me work harder. I wanted to get out and go to work.”

As much as it was a depressing display of political sluggishness, Obama’s first debate was also a galvanizing moment for his backers. Several said that they were prompted to volunteer — either by making phone calls or knocking on doors — because of the abject fear that came with watching their candidate fumble what seemed to be a comfortable lead. But often it required getting over the initial hysteria.

“I felt like I was going to cry,” said Nancy Aboulmouna, of Arlington. “I have not yet. Not yet. I just wanted to. I talked to my parents and friends. But then I found out that some of them were Romney supporters and it got worse from there.”

Faced with a campaign narrative not to their liking, some Obama supporters simply tuned out.