Candidates Tied in Polls, Spar on Foreign Policy in Last Debate

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BOCA RATON - With the latest NBC and Wall Street Journal poll showing both presidential candidates dead even at 47 percent, both campaigns indicated Monday night's third and final debate on foreign policy at Lynn University in Fla. was a major opportunity for one to pull ahead.

But, according to political analyst and MU political science professor Marvin Overby, there was little disparity in the candidates' positions.  Thus, he predicted this debate, alone, would yield only minimal, if any, poll change.

"People tend to watch these debates very much with their partisan lenses on," Overby said. "I think Republicans are going to think Mitt Romney did OK. I think the Democrats are going to think President Obama looked very presidential. I think part of what we're going to see is President Obama trying to push this question of 'can you see Mitt Romney as Commander-in-Chief?'"

Competing for television viewership with a game seven bid to the World Series and Monday night football, Overby suspected the audience--as subtly but noticeably revealed by both candidates in their responses--consisted predominantly of women.

"We might see tonight there was a larger female audience watching because of those major sporting event, and I think we saw both candidates maybe playing to that," Overby said.  "In his very first response to a question from Bob Schieffer in talking about the Middle East, what [did] Gov. Romney talk about? He talk[ed] about empowering women in the Middle East--probably trying to close that gender gap."

In his segway into the first and largely anticipated question about the changing Middle East and new face of terrorism, Moderator Bob Schieffer from CBS News made note of the 50-year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Analogously, he then asked President Obama and Governor Romney whether there was "an attempt to mislead people" about what happened in the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that left U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.  The question came just hours after Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock called for a Senate investigation into the attack.

President Obama emphasized he "took leadership" post-attack, reminding the audience that the majority of Libyans condemned the seige and rallied in support of the U.S. and its anti-terrorism efforts.  Romney said his strategy to "go after the bad guys" and yielding the Muslim community to "reject extremism on its own" entails a three-part plan for better education, gender equality and "rule of law."

After briefly sparring on Egypt, Syria and the most plausible means of destabilizing the Assad regime, Schieffer redirected the discussion to America's role in the world--a topic that prompted dispute over the logistics of Romney's pledge not to cut the military budget.  Amid the discussion, Pres. Obama declared what analysts have deemed his most memorable jab of the evening, saying, "Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed."

Iran also took precedence in Monday's debate, as reports now suggest the U.S. may engage Iran in nuclear talks after the election.  As indicated before and re-emphasized tonight, the President and Romney have slightly differing ideas on how to foster sanctions with Iran.  But, both expressed support for the U.S.'s protection of Israel if under nuclear attack. 

"President Obama again categorically denied this report about possible bilateral negotiations [between the U.S. and Iran], and also President Obama repeatedly tonight invoked Israel--talked about it six or seven times, probably because this debate took place in Florida, a swing state with a large Jewish population--probably trying to close the deal in trying to bring Florida back into the Democratic camp in this election," Overby said.

The last question regarding China exposed what Overby said were the candidates' consistent talking points.  At both Monday's debate and the previous debate, Romney professed he would crack down on China and label it as a currency manipulator. Both candidates stressed China, though a valuable trade hub, must be forced to abide by international trade rules.  "We like free enterprise, but we've gotta play by the rules," Romney declared.

As they frequently did with several questions, the President and Romney interjected domestic policy issues into their responses on China.  Overby said, "I think both candidates tried to make China about domestic policy, which was a common theme tonight in the debate. Even though it was about foreign policy, both candidates took every opportunity to turn the debate back to domestic policy, indicating...that's what's going to decide the Election, not foreign policy.

Schieffer did not ask the candidates directly about Latin America in the debate, but both candidates agreed Latin America is a "huge opportunity" in terms of trade relations.

The debate is the last event at which both candidates will be face-to-face until after the General Election, which will occur on Tues., Nov. 6.  On that date, KOMU 8 News will provide live coverage from polling centers and campaign headquarters across the state.