Debate Winner: Obama Dominates the Battle, Romney Prepped to Win the War

RECAP: President Obama proved his foreign policy expertise during the final debate tonight. The fact that he has served as commander-in-chief for four years now (and that Romney has not) was apparent. He also continued to attack Mitt Romney at the same level of aggressiveness seen during the town hall debate. 

On the other hand, Romney has never seemed more agreeable than he did tonight. The number of times he embraced policies of the Obama administration was stunning. He often fell short of getting the best of the president but generally erred on the side of caution.

What does this mean? Obama did not need to prove himself as commander-in-chief tonight (he did that when he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden), yet he seemed determined to do just that. Similarly, Romney showed his leadership and dominance during the first debate and felt no need to repeat that show in this debate. Romney knew he could not stand toe-to-toe with Obama on foreign policy, and he did not try. He picked his battles (e.g., Israel) and let the president have the last word more often than in previous debates. Romney effectively kept the Obama campaign from using this debate to tie Romney to President Bush's unpopular foreign policy.

As for their closing statements, Romney effectively focused on the economy. The majority of voters - including the majority of undecided voters - will choose our next president with the economy as the driving factor.

Obama won the foreign policy debate. Romney will win the election.

UPDATE 10:37 PM CNN "Obama came to attack, Romney came to agree."

ROMNEY CLOSING STATEMENT: I believe in the future and in the peace we as a nation help secure around the world. The president's policies will bring us towards Greece; mine will cut the deficit, boost the economy, create jobs. We are the hope of the earth. I will work with you in continuing that.

OBAMA CLOSING STATEMENT: Romney wants to take us back to the past. I want to bring manufacturing back to America, to reduce the deficit, to support the middle class.

UPDATE 10:30 PM After Romney professes love for teachers, commentator: "I think we all love teachers."

UPDATE 10:22 PM Tonight's Libya question: did Romney support government intervention for the auto industry?

UPDATE 10:15 PM Oooo China. I'm excited.

UPDATE 10:12 PM Just as much agreement as disagreement between these two tonight. 

UPDATE 10:10 PM Pakistan is essential ally, says Romney.

UPDATE 10:08 PM Both candidates seem on same page with Afghanistan. President Obama focusing on what happens after the war ends in 2014, e.g., veteran support.

UPDATE 10:06 PM Next topic: Afghanistan.

UPDATE 10:00 PM Interruptions happening at a record low tonight.

UPDATE 9:58 PM Romney steps up claim of weakness and "apology tour" by Obama's administration, Obama defending his policies and world travels.

UPDATE 9:54 PM Romney suggests Obama administration showed "weakness" from day one, allowing Iran to make progress towards nuclear capability.

UPDATE 9:52 PM Obama disclaims NYT report of US-Iran one-on-one talks.

UPDATE 9:48 PM Obama and Romney both proclaim military support for Israel. Obama claims Romney would use military force "prematurely." Romney defends by increasing strain his presidency would place on Iran, using military only as a last resort.

UPDATE 9:45 PM Obama really talking down to Romney tonight, telling him we don't need as big of navy today just like we don't need as many bayonets as we once did.

UPDATE 9:41 PM Romney less aggressive than town hall debate. Waiting his turn to speak tonight. Obama - not so much.

UPDATE 9:39 PM Romney defending his argument for military expansion.

UPDATE 9:36 PM Romney lays out his five-step plan for future success; Obama continues attacking Romney and touting the past four years.

UPDATE 9:32 PM Romney: A strong America in the world comes from a strong American economy. Obama: We are stronger now than we were at the beginning of my presidency.

UPDATE 9:29 PM After early jabs, both candidates have taken it down several notches below the firestorm of the last debate. Is Romney really sick, and is Obama back to first-debate status?

UPDATE 9:23 PM Topic #2: Syria. Romney: We must take more of a leadership role. Obama: Irritable defense of our coalition role.

UPDATE 9:18 PM No real answers on Libya. Both candidates attacking each other. Obama pulling it off a bit better.

UPDATE 9:09 PM Romney: General answer not focused on Libya; Obama: It's his job to keep Americans safe, and that's what he's done (except in our embassy in Libya?)

UPDATE 9:05 PM First question: Libya. What happened before and after? What went wrong? Thoughts from both candidates.

UPDATE 9:00 PM CNN reports President Obama feeling confident and ready to play offense tonight, Romney feeling weak and sick to his stomach.

UPDATE 8:51 PM CNN reports that before each debate, Mitt Romney finds his wife Ann in theaudience and looks at her throughout for approval. Also writes "DAD" on piece of paper so he will remember how his father would act.

UPDATE 8:01 PM According to a CBS News poll, President Obama comes into tonight's debate with a 50-41 percent lead over Mitt Romney when voters were asked who would do a better job with foreign policy. Overall, 42% of voters predict a win for the president tonight, compared with 34% who expect Romney to come away with the victory.

These numbers bode well for Romney. Despite his momentum this month, he debates as the underdog tonight. If he performs as expected - slightly worse than Obama - he won't be any worse off for it, and the overall momentum of the race just might continue to roll in his favor. If he beats expectations - anywhere from toe-to-toe with or significantly stronger than the president - his campaign will be in an even better position tomorrow morning.

In order for the president to secure a real win tonight, he must present a much stronger case than Romney. Higher expectations turn what otherwise may seem like a tie into a loss for Obama. 

The CBS News poll shows other interesting numbers that again could work against the president. Although on overall foreign policy Obama holds a nine-point lead, the advantage shrinks when specifically regarding Iran (46-43), disappears on China (44-44), and is reversed when Israel is the focus (42-46). Even if Romney performs only to these levels during specific questions tonight, he will once again come away as having surpassed expectations. Libya (not part of the poll) is another issue. We will soon see if the former governor learned from his accusatory gaffe in last week's debate.

UPDATE 7:02 PM Mitt Romney's success during the first debate was partially escalated due to low expectations. Given Obama's slight lead on foreign policy issues, will the same pattern unfold? I.e., a win tonight for Obama will change very little since many expect it, but a win for Romney would surprise many and give him a sizeable "bump."

America's next president could very well be determined tonight. Voting won't happen for another two weeks, but this is the last time Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will have an audience of millions watching and listening to their messages. 

The race is more or less tied at the moment. 

- If Mitt comes out ahead tonight, he will be the clear winner of the debate cycle and pull into a secure lead before the election. 

- If Obama dominates, he will have the upper hand going into the final two weeks of the campaign season, but given Romney's clear win at their first meeting, the president won't be able to boast about winning the entire round of debates.

Foreign policy is the topic tonight. Expect to hear about the following:

- Libya (embassy attack, ambassador assassination)

- China (currency manipulation, trade policy, outsourcing of jobs)

- Iran (nuclear progarm, leaked rumors of bilateral US-Iran talks)

- Syria (civil war, our inaction on it)

- Romney's "blunderful" overseas trip earlier this year

- Osama bin Laden assassination

- America's future role in the world