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News Analysis: Performance, rather than content, to weigh heavily in final U.S. presidential debate

English.news.cn   2012-10-20 10:31:19            
 • U.S. viewers will focus more on how the candidates say in final presidential debate.
 • Romney will try to weave economic arguments into the debate.
 • Obama's likability and perceived foreign policy strength have kept him ahead in polls.

 

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) -- With foreign policy low on Americans' list of concerns, U.S. viewers will focus less on what the two candidates say in Monday's presidential debate and more on how they say it, while the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya could continue to be a major topic, experts said.

While the theme of Monday's third and final face-off between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney is foreign policy, the most important thing for both is scoring points with viewers on presentation. Taking a backseat are the finer points of sticky foreign policy issues that are over the heads of many Americans.

"Watching (the candidates') response to the questions is potentially more important" than their actual foreign policies, Pew Research Center Andrew Kohut told reporters at a breakfast Friday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That was true in last week's debate, when Obama's smooth responses and confidence gave him a slight edge, as well as in the first debate, in which Obama had a lackluster performance that has cost his previous lead over Romney among likely voters.

Since the contests began early this month, the Republican challenger has been steadily closing the gap in national polls, pulling ahead of the president and on Friday dropping behind by a razor-thin 0.1 point.

Some analysts argue the gains came because many Americans got their first real glimpse of the challenger, and failed to see the capitalist ogre that team Obama described in a string of attack ads.

And that remains Romney's main challenge in Monday's debate -- not to show his foreign policy acumen, but to use the platform to get voters to warm to the idea of a new president.

"Because of the fact that foreign policy is not high on the radar, he is about getting people comfortable with him," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

But beating a sitting president is no easy task. It is rarely done, as the challenger must show he is a better pick than the man, with whom so many Americans have grown comfortable over the last four years.

ROMNEY'S STRATEGY

Romney will try to weave economic arguments into the debate by saying that a strong domestic economy is necessary for a strong foreign policy, O'Connell said.

Obama's likability and perceived foreign policy strength have kept him ahead in polls. But Romney aims to change U.S. perceptions on Obama's handling of foreign policy by arguing the president's policies are weaker than Americans realize, O'Connell said.

To do this, the former Massachusetts governor will argue the recent attack of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya underscores what Romney believes to be Obama's failure to defeat the al-Qaida network, contrary to the White House narrative that al-Qaida died when U.S. commandos last year killed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in a raid.

Moreover, Romney will argue that the president dropped the ball when his administration allegedly failed to provide the consulate with adequate security and delayed billing the incident a terrorist attack for eight days after it occurred.

Indeed, it will be Romney's second crack at this after the challenger fumbled the opportunity in the second debate when he became bogged down on details, giving Obama the chance to get the upper hand on that point and demonstrating Romney's tendency to get hung up on minutia.

Polls indicate the public is split on the issue, but a clear argument Monday on why Romney believes Obama is responsible for lax security that led to a U.S. ambassador's death could hurt the president, analysts said.

"Up to this point, (Obama) has had very solid and impressive ratings on handling foreign policy," said Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the think tank American Enterprise Institute. "Libya could nick those high marks."

"While I doubt most Americans are paying a lot of attention to the issue right now, I think they sense it is an Obama vulnerability," she said.

Still, Romney must be careful not to seem too assertive in his foreign policy in what Kohut noted was a nation that is becoming increasingly isolationist in the wake of the long and unpopular Iraq war.

ROMNEY CLOSING GAP ON FOREIGN POLICY

Romney's foreign policy ratings surged earlier this month, according to a national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted on Oct. 4-7, which finds that Obama and Romney run about even on most foreign policy issues.

On the question of who can do a better job making wise decisions about foreign policy, 47 percent of voters favor Obama and 43 percent favor Romney, marking a substantial gain for Romney, who trailed Obama by 15 points on foreign policy issues in September.

Romney holds a nine-point lead over Obama on dealing with trade with China and a 16-point advantage among independent voters, the survey found. On dealing with other issues -- Iran's nuclear program and political instability in countries like Egypt and Libya -- neither candidate has a clear advantage.

Related:

Obama viewed as winner of second presidential debate: poll

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama was viewed by more Americans who watched the second presidential debate of this election cycle as the winner of his second face-off with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to a latest Gallup poll released on Friday.

The poll found that more Americans believed Obama did a better job than Romney, by 51 percent to 38 percent. The rating showed a sharp reversal from the first presidential debate for which Romney was regarded as a landslide winner by 72 percent.  Full story

News Analysis: Obama outperforms Romney in high-stake 2nd debate

HEMPSTEAD, United States, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama outperformed his Republican challenger Mitt Romney Tuesday evening at their second debate, pulling almost even their support in the last stretch of this election cycle.

The debate, a town-hall style face-off between the two candidates, saw a more aggressive and animated Obama, whose lackluster performance in the first debate on Oct. 3 prompted the question: does he want the job or not?   Full story

Editor: Yang Lina
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