New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio shake hands at the conclusion of their first televised debate. (AP Photo/Daily News, James Keivom, Pool)

Grudgingly or not, most media pundits had to give it to Bill de Blasio. The progressive Democrat is already forty to fifty points ahead of Republican Joe Lhota in the New York City mayoral race, but after their first head-to-head debate last night, de Blasio “sealed the deal,” Politico’s Mike Allen, the voice of conventional wisdom, said on Morning Joe today.

Even New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin had to concede, “The difference was striking. Lhota had a few good moments and articulated key economic differences, but too often got trapped defending and explaining. De Blasio was confidently commanding, never stopped attacking and added to the sense his election is inevitable.”

All that attacking was unfair, and unworthy of a front-runner, says Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: “[I]t seemed to be de Blasio’s mission to make Lhota into some New York City version of Sen. Ted Cruz, or some of the other Republican nuts from the Congress. Of course de Blasio knows that Lhota is anything but, even as he kept trying to act as if Lhota speaking in front of a Tea Party group in Staten Island was some kind of political felony, worse than anything Anthony Weiner ever did with babes.”

Babes aside, I have to agree: Lhota’s not Cruz, far from it. For moments last night I almost felt sorry for the man who served as a Giuliani deputy mayor. He came off as reasonable, decent guy, and he did accomplish one thing—he proved he’s not a scary winger.

But Lhota had done exactly what de Blasio said he had done. By supporting a year’s delay in Obamacare, which would be tantamount to killing it, Lhota “is enabling the same worldview that has put us in this crisis,” de Blasio said at the debate, referring to the GOP’s shutdown/debt-ceiling disaster.

But it’s not all a loss for the right and the mainstream media. Assuming that de Blasio wins, they’ll have at least four years to use him as a false-equivalency voodoo doll.

As moderate GOP consultant Mike Murphy said on Morning Joe today (starting around 9:00), de Blasio might help Republicans survive their own implosion.

“We have a path forward,” Murphy said. “I believe the Democrats are heading for their own meltdown. Because while the dogma on the populist right of the Republican Party is getting all the press…, the Democratic Party is lurching lefter and lefter and lefter. In New York, Bill de Blasio—Trotsky would say, ‘Too much, he’s a good guy, but he is no centrist Democrat.’”

Joe Scarborough laughed heartily at that.

You’ve read the post-game analysis, now check out Leslie Savan’s primer for the NYC mayoral debate.