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Third Presidential Debate Preview: Obama vs Romney, What to Expect

The third presidential debate is scheduled for Monday, October 22, also at 9:00 PM EDT, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. The third debate, which is on foreign policy, will be moderated by 75-year-old Bob Schieffer of CBS News who will hopefully not get steamrolled like Jim Lehrer did. Schieffer has moderated this debate in the past two presidential elections.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.

It is a formal debate, à la the first at Denver University. It will cover six topics, 15 minutes each. According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, “The moderator will open each segment with a question. Each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Following the candidates' responses, the moderator will use the balance of the 15-minute segment to facilitate a discussion on the topic.” The six topics as selected by Schieffer and released on October 12 are: “America’s role in the world; Our longest war — Afghanistan and Pakistan; Red lines — Israel and Iran; The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism (two sections); and The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World.”

While hawk President George W. Bush was able to curry votes thanks to his enthusiasm for promoting military actions abroad via the War on Terror, it is doubtful similar militarism will be successful for Romney with what is now a war-weary populace. So Romney will have to play to the fiscally conservative, rather than hawkish, elements of the GOP. His outsourcing legacy with Bain Capital should come up in discussion, and the fiscally-aware voter base will be looking for policies towards China. The security buffs will be looking to answers on Schieffer’s terrorism questions, and answers to questions on Afghanistan and the rate of troop withdrawal from the Middle East will be on everyone’s radar screens.

On the other side, Obama’s inability to make “progress” in the Middle East (what’s new?) and his administration’s handling of the Arab Spring and the Libya crisis will almost certainly be a point of contention, though I’d expect him to bring up the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden. Then there was the mini-scandal last November when Obama and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy were caught criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama and Netanyahu have disagreed on several issues in the past, including the building of Israeli-government-financed settlements in the West Bank. The “peace process” is the perennial topic-du-jour so this is sure to arise.

From a debating standpoint, Romney has a larger arsenal from which to attack, but ideologically Obama could still come out on top, with his less-interventionist policies likely to attract a Libertarian-leaning undecided segment.

In a campaign season that has been so dominated by domestic policy disputes — deficits, banks, jobs, health care — the foreign policy debate should be a welcome, and enlightening, respite for engaged voters.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.

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