Published October 23, 2012
If the third presidential debate set the tone for the final two weeks of the campaign, then expect President Obama to mock and deride his opponent all the way to the finish line and Mitt Romney to keep hammering the economy above all else.
The candidates were fanning out across a handful of battleground states Tuesday in the aftermath of the final debate. After a two-year campaign that has taken the contenders around the country, the candidates will stick to a limited map from now until Election Day -- in closely contested states like Ohio, Colorado and Florida.
There are no more opportunities to capture a prime-time national audience like the candidates had last night. But during those 90 minutes, both Obama and Romney indicated they will keep going after each other hard in a race that is shaping up to be historically close.
Obama's performance Monday night was widely seen as dismissive of Romney, often snarky. His most memorable line came when he chastised Romney for complaining that the Navy has shrunk.
"Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed," Obama said.
The president also knocked Romney for calling Russia America's No. 1 geopolitical foe. "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back," Obama said.
The president's approach to the debate followed his approach to the campaign over the last couple weeks -- with much attention paid to zingers, like "Romnesia," and carefully phrased comebacks. The president, at a campaign stop in Florida Tuesday morning, continued to diagnose his rival with "Romnesia," his term for the charge that Romney has forgotten what his own positions have been on the issues. He launched into a Jeff Foxworthy-style routine, repeating the refrain "you might have Romnesia" if ...
"Don't worry," Obama quipped. "ObamaCare covers preexisting conditions. We can fix you up. We can cure this disease."
But the campaign on Tuesday morning also was making its policy case for a second term, releasing a new 20-page booklet on the president's jobs plan. The campaign plans to make 3.5 million copies of the plan available.
But Romney took pains to keep the economy at the center of the discussion, and at the center of his campaign platform, during the final debate. Though the debate's theme was foreign policy, Romney repeatedly brought the discussion back to the issue of jobs.
"I know what it takes to create 12 million new jobs," Romney said. "The president said by now we'd be at 5.4 percent unemployment. We're 9 million jobs short of that. I will get America working again."
Romney also weaved in sharp critiques of the president's foreign policy, going after him foremost over the so-called "apology tour" shortly after he took office -- though Obama calls that charge false.
Romney's campaign released a TV ad Tuesday morning hammering that accusation and reprising his criticism from the debate. It includes the line: "You went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And ... you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region."
The ad points out that, while Obama visited Israel as a candidate, "he has yet to visit Israel" as president.
Obama, meanwhile, accused Romney during the debate in Boca Raton, Fla., of being "all over the map" on foreign affairs.
Romney, who after months of trailing Obama is suddenly up in a string of national and battleground polls, appeared at times to scold Obama for getting too aggressive. After Obama pointedly told him, "every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong," Romney responded: "Attacking me is not an agenda."
Romney offered a few areas of agreement with the president, including on ruling out military action in Syria, continuing to support sanctions against Iran and supporting the withdrawal timetable in Afghanistan. In doing so, the Republican nominee rejected Obama's suggestion that he would be eager to lurch into war with countries like Iran. He also brushed off Obama's claims that Romney would return to the foreign policies of the prior administration.
Romney's chief criticism of the president Monday night was that he has not provided a clear example of American leadership for the world, whether it be in Syria or Iran or Russia.
But Obama, in turn, sought to portray Romney as someone who would be unsteady on the world stage, with a risky mix of poor judgment and antiquated views. The president employed sharp, at times sarcastic, language to cast Romney as out of his depth.
"Both at home and abroad, he has proposed wrong and reckless policies," Obama said.
Romney was most aggressive at the start of the debate, claiming the president's counterterror strategy has not quelled the Al Qaeda threat. It was the first and last reference to the Sept. 11 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, something that has driven the debate on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill for a month.
"It's certainly not on the run. It's certainly not hiding," Romney said of Al Qaeda. "This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries."
The 90-minute debate at Lynn University was moderated by CBS News' Bob Schieffer and offered perhaps the last chance for either candidate to shake up the race in any significant way, with two weeks to go until Election Day.
The presidential debates this month have been among the most consequential in modern campaign history. Romney entered the debates as the slight underdog, but since his opening performance has surged to even or better with the president in many polls.