President Barack Obama used an attacking style and an incumbent’s foreign policy advantage to win on points in his third presidential debate with Governor Mitt Romney. A CNN poll of debate viewers gave Obama a 48-40 edge.
Yet, Romney passed two important tests. Those same viewers placed the two men in a virtual tie on being commander-in-chief, a key test for any challenger in a foreign policy debate with a sitting president. Romney also gained a virtual tie (Obama 48%, Romney 47%) on likeability, a key Romney disadvantage in the campaign.
The President had a sharper focus on foreign policy issues, capitalizing on his first-hand experience. Romney was too vague and much more willing to agree with the president than in previous debates. Romney’s sharp pivot to domestic policy did help his cause, but his decision to pass on the Libya controversy indicated his strategy in debate three was to try to be more likable than forceful.
Obama repeatedly attempted to portray Romney as “reckless,” yet Romney gave him little ammunition. The challenger gave an extremely measured performance emphasizing peace and taking a much more conciliatory tone towards China. The voters must decide for themselves if this is shift in emphasis or a shift in position.
The final presidential debate was more of a chess match than a fist fight. We’ll have a better idea of who really won in two weeks.
The writer is a speaking coach, adjunct media professor, and former elected official.