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Romney appeared on defense, which cost him, but it's not clear how much impact it will have.
Foreign policy debate awarded to President Obama. The third and final presidential debate was billed as a session on foreign policy issues, but both President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney still strayed into domestic policy and economic issues as they sought to connect with voters in a nationwide format.
Obama pained Romney as offering differing views and being "all over the map" on foreign policy issues. Romney challenged Obama to not simply attack him in responding to the questions, saying that was "not a strategy" for the country.
But as the night wore on, the two exchanged barbs on a host of issues.
Horses and bayonets. One of the most-noted lines came from President Obama as he responded to Romney's characterization of the U.S. Navy as having fewer ships than they did in 1916. Obama noted that the US military also has fewer "horses and bayonets" than it used to as well, prompting laughter from the audience in Florida.
While Obama was labeled the winner of the debate, it's far from clear the evening was enough to tilt the contest from where it has moved to in recent weeks - essentially a draw between the two. Foreign policy typically ranks lower on voters' priority list, coming behind the economy and other domestic issues such as spending and more.
Playing defense. Much as Obama's performance was seen as a defensive one in the first debate which was viewed as a win for Romney, the GOP challenger surprised some by not going after Obama on certain issues like the situation in Syria.
And as in prior debates, there were some interesting twists and turns. When CBS News' moderate Bob Schieffer mentioned the New York Times report that the administration had agreed to hold post-election talks with Iran on their nuclear program, Obama labeled that as a report in the news that was not accurate.
"Those were reports in the newspaper. They are not true," Obama stated. But later in the debate, Obama commented that Romney appeared to be backing many of the current administration's foreign policy strategies relative to Iran. He specifically mentioned the administration's policy of "applying diplomatic pressure" and then mentioned "otentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program."
Domestic content emerges. Both Obama and Romney sought to steer the discussion to domestic economic policies, including the coming dramatic cuts via sequestration which would involve steep reductions in military spending. Obama simply said the cuts "will not happen" and said he did not generate the debt agreement which contains those broad spending reductions.
Polls indicated that Obama did indeed carry the evening, as CBS News poll indicated a 53% to 23% margin of victory in a poll of undecided voters. CNN polling showed Obama taking the debate 48% to 40% while Public Policy Polling declared Obama the winner via a margin of 53% to 42%.
Still, most observers say that Romney did come off looking presidential during the session which competed for voter attention with Monday Night Football and the deciding Game 7 of the National League Championship series.
But the key question of whether this really will move the needle much in a presidential contest that has now become by most accounts, too close to call.
After all, foreign policy is down on the list of what's important to voters. And the debates may not have shifted voter thinking much in the important camp of the undecided or moderate voter.
Some observers note the debates merely have solidified each candidate within their party base or with those in their party who were potentially reluctant to commit just yet.
Comments: Playing defense is rarely a strategy for a win. Diverging views on this were evident last night. Just ask the San Francisco Giants who advanced to the World Series on the back of a 9-0 offensive output Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. But then the Chicago Bears may differ with that assessment as their defense clearly provided what was needed for the Bears to defeat the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.
Unlike two of the three contests on the national stage last night, the verdict on whether the strategy played out in this final debate was a winner or not will not come until Nov. 6. And it could be a long night given how close the contest has become.