Obama the instigator vs. Romney the reserved

If Mitt Romney was assertive and President Obama was passive in the first debate, the third and final debate was very much the opposite.

Monday's tilt at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was marked by a very aggressive Obama matching wits with a challenger who seemed happy to call the debate a draw and move on with the rest of the campaign.

Watch the highlights of the final presidential debate.

The question from here is whether that was a good strategy for both men. And snap polls at the end of the debate suggest Obama either got a bit more mileage out of it or, in the case of a CBS poll, scored some real points.

Here's a look at how both men handled their final face-to-face meeting of the 2012 campaign:

* Why Obama was so forceful: Anyone watching the debate who hadn't seen recent polls of the presidential race would have assumed that Obama was very much fighting from behind. The aggressive posture he staked out was the kind of strategy most often employed by candidates who need to make up ground. At the same time, the president's campaign has often seen foreign policy as a trump card in the 2012 election and one it can effectively use against Romney. Whether this strategy was one of necessity or choice, it was certainly the strategy going in.

* Why it was risky: The president risked coming off as un-presidential. His comments during the exchange about military spending, in particular, could read as patronizing and juvenile. When Romney noted that the Navy is now smaller than at any time since World War I, Obama shot back: "Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."  Even if you think that exchange worked for Obama, the sarcasm was a bit jarring. (What's that adage? 'Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?')

* Why it probably worked: Romney was clearly put on the defensive throughout the debate, whether on China, the auto bailout or -- and this was the big one -- Osama bin Laden. Obama pointing to Romney's 2007 comments that it wasn't "worth moving Heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person" was a particularly strong moment for the president, and one that will likely serve to elevate the death of bin Laden in the presidential debate -- which is nothing but good for Obama. 

* Why Romney was so reserved: It was clear from the first question that Romney wasn't looking to mix it up too much with Obama. The first question went to Romney on Libya, and he passed on the chance to repeat his attack on the president's handling of the situation. What followed was pretty much along the same lines. A few theories as to why: 1) The Libya attack didn't pan out so well in the last debate, 2) Romney was simply feeling good about his chances in the race and didn't want to mess anything up, and/or 3) Romney recognized that talking about foreign policy isn't his strength, and he wanted to avoid yet another stumble on the issue.

* Why it was risky: Any time you allow your opponent to be the aggressor, you risk allowing them the chance to define the debate. That was very much the case here. Obama's attacks on Romney will be the story on Tuesday -- whether or not that reflects positively on the president -- and that means that Obama had an opportunity to move numbers in his favor. Polling suggests the president did himself at least some good here.

* Why it probably worked: As we've written before, the name of the game for Romney on foreign policy is passing the "commander in chief" test enough so that he can win on the economy. And his performance Monday was probably good enough to do that -- even if it wasn't Romney's strongest performance. A CNN poll after the debate showed 60 percent of voters thought Romney could handle the job of commander in chief. Romney avoided the kind of stumbles that have plagued his entree into foreign policy, and the fact is that, no matter how much the situation in Libya matters in the broader global context, it's hardly the major issue in the presidential campaign. It's hard to see where Romney created many glaring problems for himself at Monday's debate, and that appears to be what he was going for.

GOP group launches four-state buy: The Republican-leaning outside group Americans for Job Security is launching a $2.5 million ad buy in four states hitting Obama for his economic record.

The ad features a woman who says she supported Obama in 2008 but is worried that the country is headed for another recession. It will run in three heavily trafficked states -- Iowa, Ohio and Virginia -- along with a sleeper state, Democratic-leaning Minnesota.

The same ad ran in six states in September.

'Chinese professor' ad is back: TV viewers are about to have a little case of deja vu.

The so-called "Chinese professor" ad that got lots of airplay in 2010 is back for another round in 2012, with $2 million behind it.

The ad features a futuristic classroom scene with a Chinese professor speaking to his students about past empires that failed -- including the United State of America -- and talks about what led to its downfall, including deficit spending, Obamacare, stimulus and bailouts.

The kicker line: "Of course, we owned most of their debt, so now they work for us."

The ad is sponsored by Citizens Against Government Waste and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which put $8 million behind it in 2010.

Fixbits:

Jon Ralston recaps early voting in Nevada.

A hard-hitting new ad from former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson's (R) Senate campaign hits Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) for voting against a resolution remembering the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. What the ad doesn't say: the bill also paid tribute to the Patriot Act, which Baldwin voted against.

Maine GOP Senate candidate Charlie Summers has upped his fundraising pace, pulling in $325,000 in two weeks.

A new ad from Connecticut GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon features people who will be splitting their tickets between her and Obama.

A Montana judge may soon decide whether to release documents on an investigation into a 2009 boat crash involving Senate candidate Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).

A new poll for Rep. Joe Donnelly's (D-Ind.) Senate campaign shows him leading at 43 percent and Republican Richard Mourdock at 41 percent.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) raises money for the top Democratic super PAC raising money for House races, House Majority PAC.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has moved leadership elections back to Dec. 5, leading to speculation that she will step aside and let others campaign for the top Democratic post in the House.

Embattled Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) chats with the Post's Ed O'Keefe. One choice quote comes when Rivera is asked whether he has been informed that he's being investigated: "You really need to ask them, because no federal agency has ever said I’m under federal investigation for anything. You need to call the DEA or the IRS or the FBI or the CIA or the KGB or the ABC or the XYZ or the LMNOP. Ask them."

The Murfreesboro Daily News Journal bashes Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) in an editorial, urging him to "fade into the background" after a report that he urged his mistress to get an abortion years ago.

Must-reads:

"Obama’s ‘not one of us’ attack on Romney echoes racial code" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"Obama, Romney differ less on China trade, investment issues than they claim" -- Tom Hamburger, Washington Post

Uncertainty Clouds Polling, but Obama Remains Electoral College Favorite" -- Nate Silver, New York Times

Also on The Fix

Winners and losers from the final presidential debate