Crucial Debate May Focus on Libya and Iran

Middle East Policy Takes Center Stage in Neck-and-Neck Race

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By Reuters

Published October 22, 2012.
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President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney face off in front of the cameras for a third and final time on Monday near the end of a presidential campaign season marked by a high number of memorable debates.

With 15 days to go until Americans vote on Nov. 6, the two candidates turn to foreign policy for their last encounter at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. The 90-minute event starts at 9 p.m. (0100 GMT on Tuesday) and is moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS.

The stakes are high as the pair run neck and neck in the polls. Presidential debates have not always been consequential, but this year they have had an impact.

Romney was reeling from a series of stumbles when he entered the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3, and his strong performance changed the course of the race, vaulting him back into an even position in the polls with Obama.

Democrats fretted openly about their candidate’s timidity at the podium.

Then, Obama was ruled the narrow winner of the second encounter on Oct. 16 when he got the better of Romney in a testy exchange over Libya. His campaign halted the slide but it was not enough to edge ahead in the polls. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey on Sunday put the two tied at 47 percent among likely voters.

Several times, debates marked turning points in the Republican primary race. T exas Governor Rick Perry’s White House run effectively ended when he failed to remember one of three federal agencies he would scrap, in his infamous “Oops” moment in a debate.

Newt Gingrich presented Romney a serious challenge at points during the primaries, partly on the back of strong debate performances.

The former House of Representatives speaker won fans among Republicans by attacking moderator John King of CNN for asking him about an old extramarital affair at the start of a debate in January in South Carolina. Gingrich won the state’s primary days later.

LAST-CHANCE DEBATE

Monday’s debate is the last major chance for Romney and Obama to be seen by millions of voters before Election Day. More than 60 million viewers watched each of their previous two encounters.

If recent history is any guide, it is anybody’s guess as to how the third face-to-face session will play out.

Despite a reputation for being wooden, Romney has shown an ability to rise to the occasion and perform well on stage.


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