With the debates over, the two candidates and their campaigns now begin a two-week sprint to Election Day. The campaigns will be focused on a relative handful of states with two objectives: winning over the few remaining undecided voters with a last barrage of television ads and intensifying efforts to get their identified supporters to the polls — either during early voting periods or on Nov. 6.
The focus of the last of their three debates was supposed to be foreign policy, but both Romney and Obama used their time to talk about the issues most important to voters: jobs, the economy and the budget. They talked about the auto bailout, school class sizes and Romney’s tax plan. At several points, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, who served as moderator, tried to bring them back to foreign affairs and national security, but sometimes to no avail.
Romney appeared cautious, especially during the early stages of the debate, but grew more assertive as the evening went on. Throughout the debate, Obama seemed eager and ready to take the fight to his opponent, drawing on his experience to draw contrasts with the challenger. At times, as Romney offered pointed criticism of his policies, Obama glared directly at him.
Romney’s central critique was that Obama had been weak in the face of “a rising tide of chaos” and tumult in the world. When Obama charged that Romney has been “all over the map” in his policies, the challenger responded by saying, “Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East.”
But Obama pressed his case that Romney’s worldview as well as his prescriptions for the domestic front were not just wrong but also rooted in the past. “When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s,” he said.
Although the two laid out some differences, Romney was less assertive in making distinctions with the president than he has been in some of his more robust and assertive foreign policy speeches along the campaign trail.
The final debate concluded a gripping series of encounters between the two candidates that shook up the campaign as dramatically as any recent series of debates. Romney used the first debate to greatest advantage with an aggressive performance that contrasted to a lackluster evening for the president. Obama rebounded in the second debate, which was marked by sharp and testy exchanges between the two candidates, but not so much as to reverse the gains Romney had made.