“After a decade of war, I think we all agree, we need to do some nation-building here at home,” President Barack Obama said in his closing in the final presidential debate of the 2012 campaign.
It was a foreign policy-focused face-off, one in which the president and his Republican rival agreed about the proper American stance toward most of the existing or impending foreign policy crises in the world — in Iran, Israel, Syria, Libya and Pakistan — as well as agreeing on the U.S. use of unmanned aircraft– drones — in the pursuit of enemies abroad.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” Republican Mitt Romney said. “I’m excited about our prospects as a nation. I want to see peace. I want to see growing peace in this country.”’
Yet both struggled to turn the focus of this final of three debates in Boca Raton, Florida, the biggest of all the swing states under contention in November, toward their visions about fixing the American economy.
“Now you’ve got a choice,” Obama said, voicing the theme of his campaign commercials.
“Over the last four years we’ve made real progress digging our way out of policies that gave us two prolonged wars, record deficits and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said. “And Governor Romney wants to take us back to those policies, a foreign policy that’s wrong and reckless, economic policies that won’t create jobs, won’t reduce our deficit, but will make sure that folks at the very top don’t have to play by the same rules that you do.”
“And I’ve got a different vision for America,” Obama said. “I want to build on our strengths. And I’ve put forward a plan to make sure that we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to our shores by rewarding companies and small businesses that are investing here, not overseas.”
“I also want to make sure that we get this economy going,” Romney said. “And there are two very different paths the country can take. One is a path represented by the president, which at the end of four years would mean we’d have $20 trillion in debt heading towards Greece. I’ll get us on track to a balanced budget.”
“The president’s path will mean continuing declining in take-home pay,” Romney said. “I want to make sure our take-home pay turns around and starts to grow.”
They’d already had this debate about the economy. before tonight. Their attempts to keep the light on their economic plans underscore how central that is to the election, more so than any foreign policy debate — which this really wasn’t.
The first debate, on Oct. 3, went Romney’s way — a verdict rendered in the immediate post-debate polling that night and then reinforced in national and swing-state polling that has brought the contest to a virtual tie nationally and closed the gaps in advantages that Obama was building in some swing states.
The second debate, a town-hall forum on Oct. 16, went Obama’s way — so said the instant polling.
The third debate tonight, two weeks and a day from Election Day, Nov. 6, also was Obama’s:
The CBS News instant poll of uncommitted voters tonight found 53 percent saying Obama won, 23 percent Romney, according to CBS correspondents in Twitter messages.
Yet the CNN post-debate poll of registered voters registered a closer contest tonight: 48 percent said Obama won the final debate, 40 percent Romney. Margin of error: 4.5 percent.
That’s looking like a lot of other number heading into the final two weeks of the presidential election contest.
Close, and probably not settled on foreign policy.