Election 2012: The Final Debate
Obama and Romney spar one last time
BOCA RATON, Florida — Anticipation mounted at Lynn University last night as President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, prepared to meet for their third and final debate at the university's performing arts center.
After two debates that focused on domestic issues, especially the struggling economy, the main topic last night was foreign policy.
The stakes were high for the candidates. Heading into the debate, recent polls showed Obama and Romney locked in a virtual tie. As this was the last time presidential hopefuls would have a national audience, both men wanted to prove they have what it takes to be President.
Iran, China, and the American Economy
Bob Schieffer of CBS News' Face the Nation served as the debate moderator. He asked Obama and Romney questions about the war in Afghanistan, turmoil in the Middle East, terrorism, and the possibility of Iran building a nuclear weapon.
"As long as I'm President of the United States Iran will not get a nuclear weapon," Obama said. "A nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security, and it is a threat to Israel's national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world."
Romney agreed that the U.S. needs to pay close attention to Iran. But he asserted that Obama is the wrong person to put pressure on that country.
"I think from the very beginning, one of the challenges we've had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration, and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be," Romney said. "I think they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength."
The candidates also sparred over America's relationship with China, an authoritarian regime whose economy is expected to surpass America's in the next decade.
"We have enormous trade imbalance with China, and it's worse this year than last year, and it's worse last year than the year before," Romney said. "We have to say to our friend in China, 'Look, you guys are playing aggressively. We understand it. But this can't keep on going.'"
Obama agreed that China "can be a partner" and that it needs to "play by the rules." But he said America has to continue to assert itself in Asia to pressure China.
"We are working with countries in the region to make sure, for example, that ships can pass through; that commerce continues," Obama said "And we're organizing trade relations with countries other than China so that China starts feeling more pressure about meeting basic international standards."
But despite the focus on foreign affairs issues, both Romney and Obama found ways to address the American economy.
Romney said that it's hard for America to be a world leader when "we're not doing what we need to do [at home]." As an example, he pointed to possible cuts in the defense budget that would send the message to the rest of the world that America is weak.
"Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917," Romney said. "The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through [the $1 trillion defense budget cut that could happen at the end of the year]. That's unacceptable to me."
This led Obama to respond with a zinger that immediately went viral.
"You mentioned the Navy, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916," Obama said. "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
"We've got to make sure our economy is strong at home so that we can project military power overseas," Obama added.
Students and Spinners In the Spotlight
In the hours before the debate, student volunteers at Lynn University were excited about their role.
"We're watching history in the making," said Sydney Putnam, a 20-year-old junior from Boca Raton. Putnam was one of dozens of students who volunteered at the event, which was attended by 3,500 members of the media from around the world.
Eric Gooden, another student at Lynn, stood in for President Obama during debate rehearsals with the camera crew. "Not that many students get the opportunity to sit in the seat of the President of the United States," said Gooden, a 24-year-old junior from Detroit, Michigan.
A.J. Mercincavage, 23, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, posed as Governor Romney during the rehearsals. The two students were chosen because of their physical similarities to the candidates, including height and skin tone.
Cameras and spotlights were trained on politicians and members of the Obama and Romney campaigns, too. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, talked about the importance of this election and why their candidate was the better choice.
McCain told reporters that Obama's foreign policy "has caused [the United States] to lose influence and strength around the world." Kerry, meanwhile, claimed that Romney has an "unsteady, inexperienced, unclear hand" when it comes to foreign policy.
Which candidate made the better case for their foreign policy credentials tonight? Post-debate polls will tell that story. But with no more national campaign events left on the electoral calendar, all attention moves to the finish line: November 6, Election Day.
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