Michael Reagan, the national political commentator and the son of President Ronald Reagan, described Mitt Romney's Wednesday night showdown in Denver against President Obama as the "best debate performance by a Republican since Lincoln!"

Much has changed, including the world of media, since 1858 when the tall, gangly Illinois lawyer took on the political pit bull of the day Stephen Douglas aka "little giant" in a series of seven debates the two were waging for a U.S. Senate seat. Lincoln may have looked like a bumbling farmer but on the debate trail, he was a savvy politician with a knockout punch, qualities that would propel him to becoming our 16th president two years later.

Although Lincoln and Romney appear worlds apart in their social standings and evolution in national politics, there are some common threads between the candidates. Both appear to be excellent politicians with strong executive skills and focus for America's future. Judging from what we read about the Lincoln-Douglas debates and what we saw from Mitt Romney in Denver on Wednesday, both men were and are driven by a pit-bull mentality in achieving their goals.

Debates also acted as launch vehicle for both men and their campaigns. In Lincoln's case, the 1858 debates established him as a major political figure and a prime candidate for the presidency in 1860. In Romney's case, his first presidential debate Wednesday reignited what had been a low-key campaign. The next month will tell how much of a game-changer the Denver will be, especially among the highly-prized independent and undecided voters.

With today's social media, everyone has a voice in the political process. In 1858 it took people days to read about the Lincoln-Douglas debates in their local newspaper. On Wednesday, social networks were abuzz with people discussing and scoring the debate as it was unfolding in real time.

Even before the candidates delivered their closing statements, debate watchers made their opinions known across the world of Twitter and Facebook. Just after the debate ended, Twitter announced that it had been the most tweeted event in U.S. political history, registering 11.1 million comments.

According to Twitter, Romney was the clear winner, with 47,141 tweets mentioning Romney and "win or winner" compared to just 29,677 mentioning Obama and "win or winner."

After the 1858 Senate election in Illinois, Lincoln won more popular votes than his opposition, but because of the way the election map was organized, the Douglas Democrats won a majority of seats and the new legislature chose their man to be senator.

Although a dejected Lincoln made several speaking trips in the western states after his Illinois election loss, he never mentioned that he might be a candidate for president in 1860. Whenever someone said anything about "Lincoln for president," he would answer that he did not have the ability or that there were better men in the party than himself.

His campaign speeches had been widely published, however, giving the Lincoln name national exposure. With Civil War looming on the horizon, he delivered a prophetic line: "Only events can make a president."

Now, 154 years later, many feel that the 2012 election is just as crucial and pivotal in determining America's future course as a nation.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com