President Barack Obama portrayed rival Gov. Mitt Romney as “all over the map” and inexperienced on key national security issues in the third and final debate of the presidential election Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla. Each candidate attempted to paint the other as an untrustworthy commander in chief, but Romney’s performance was less aggressive than Obama’s, and the governor was often on defense in the 90-minute exchange.
“I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy—but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” Obama said, referencing Romney’s initial support for the Iraq war.
President Obama displayed the experience of a commander-in-chief in explaining U.S. policy under his leadership and attacking the views and proposals of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor with less experience on international issues.
Romney ended up supporting most of the Obama administration’s steps involving hotspots, such as the civil war in Syria, and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, giving the president the advantage in a debate in which his GOP rival needed to question foreign policy of the past four years.
Analysts agreed that Obama won on points, but questioned if the result would have a big impact on voters and the race as a whole.
“There’s no question debate coaches would score this one for the president,” said CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, while CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen said Obama “dominated the middle of the debate” and emerged as the winner.
After Romney seemed to avoid specifics on how he would handle Syria’s civil war differently from Obama, the president retorted: “What you’ve just heard Gov. Romney say is that he doesn’t have different ideas.”
Obama and Romney are statistically tied among voters in the most recent polls, with Romney able to catch up with the president on the strength of his performance in the first debate in Denver. On foreign policy in particular, Obama’s lead over Romney, in the double digits only a few months ago, has shrunk to just four points, according to a recent Pew poll.
Americans considered President Obama the loser in the first debate in Denver by historic margins, and Romney’s poll numbers soared after his strong performance there. When the candidates met for a rematch at Hofstra University on Long Island last week, a much more assertive Obama showed up, and snap polls showed he was considered a narrow winner of the night.
It remains to be seen if this debate will provide a “bounce” for either candidate in the last few weeks of the campaign. Voters overwhelmingly say the economy and jobs are the most important issues for them in this election.