WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off at their final debate Monday — and it is Obama’s last best chance to shut down Romney’s momentum in one pounce.
Obama starts at an advantage over Romney because the third debate will be devoted to foreign policy — and as a sitting president, he just knows more. But that means the expectations are higher.
The president “has access on a daily basis to all of the intelligence, he’s been in the driver’s seat when it came time to make decisions,” William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me. “People already expect something from him and I doubt very much they would expect quite as much from Mitt Romney.”
The debate is in battleground Florida, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, as polls show Romney gaining nationally among likely voters — ahead by six points in a Gallup poll released Friday — with Obama doing better in key electoral vote-rich battleground states.
Obama is prepping this weekend at his Camp David presidential retreat; Romney is already in Florida and does his final rehearsals at a hotel near Boca Raton. One of Romney’s top foreign policy advisers is Chicago attorney Richard Williamson — who has been mentioned as a possible national security adviser if Romney wins.
Romney and Obama meet in Florida with a fluid situation– and with Obama knowing he threw away his lead overnight by his coma-like performance in Denver.
Obama did well at Hofstra last Tuesday. Romney flubbed an attack on Obama over Libya and wounded himself potentially with female voters with his instantly famous statement about how, when he was Massachusetts governor — he sifted through “whole binders full of women” to fill his cabinet.
Unlike that Hofstra debate, where the town hall format found Obama and Romney circling each other on a stage in what turned out to be an intense brawl — the Boca Raton showdown will find the rivals tethered to a chair.
Obama and Romney will be seated behind a table and, according to a contract-like memo signed between the two campaigns on Oct. 3, “at no time” shall either candidate “move” from their seat.
The moderator is CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer, who has selected the topics for the 90-minute encounter:
America’s role in the world.
The Afghanistan and Pakistan wars.
“Red lines” and Israel and Iran.
The “changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism.”
The rise of China.
Both Romney and Obama have talked about foreign policy, but domestic issues — the economy — have dominated the campaigns.
Libya on Monday will be the hottest item because of the Sept. 11 murders of four U.S. diplomats in Benghazi — and a lot of unfinished business from the Hofstra debate.
Romney and Ryan have been raising questions about what the U.S. government knew, when they knew it, whether there was proper security and if the Obama administration misled the public.
At Hofstra, Romney was not able to forcefully make his points — including that the Obama White House downplayed at first that the deaths were not at the hands of a mob, but an Al-Qaeda affiliate. Obama was able to accuse Romney of “trying to make political points.”
When it comes to Israel and Iran, Steve Coll put it well in his New Yorker piece: “After they are done arguing about who is a better friend of Israel or a more devoted enemy of the Taliban and Iran, what will they possibly talk about?”
Hofstra provided a preview of what may be a round two at Boca when it comes to China. The China portion could devolve into a heated exchange about Romney’s record at Bain — and whether companies Bain backed outsourced to China.
“I’ll crack down on China,” Romney said at Hofstra.
Retorted Obama, “Governor, you’re the last person who is going to get tough on China.”
Viewership for the debates peaked so far at the first, according to Nielsen. Denver drew 67.2 million viewers; the vice presidential, 51.4 viewers, and Hofstra, 65.6 million viewers. On Monday, Romney and Obama compete with “Monday Night Football.”
The debates are run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and the announcement of dates and sites was back on Oct. 31, 2011 — before the GOP nominee was known or what would be competing for the attention of the nation on a particular night.
Galston told me he does not expect the Florida debate to be as confrontational as the last one. Said Galston, “they may have gotten it out of their system.”