Last night’s presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida, drew to a close a tense few weeks of verbal sparring between rival Democratic and Republican candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Their final debate was centred mainly on US foreign policy and saw both men accusing one another of being out of their depth when it came to representing the United States on the world stage.
During discussions which explored a variety of international and domestic topics, from the turmoil in the Middle East to the US economy, the candidates clashed fiercely, Romney seeking to paint President Obama as a weak apologist and the Democrat attempting to portray his opponent as a military-minded zealot.
Obama resumed the aggressive debating style he debuted last week in Hempstead, New York, accusing Romney of proposing a series of “wrong and reckless” policies, while Romney held back, apparently guarding himself against appearing hot-headed, and responded to the Democrat’s onslaught in a more measured fashion.
Despite the Republican candidate accusing Obama of failing to assert American values in a world faced with a “rising tide of chaos,” immediate polls by CBS and CNN following the debate awarded victory to Obama. But media commentators have since questioned whether the result of last night’s debate will have much overall impact on the outcome of the election, which is now just two weeks away.
“For all its fireworks, the debate broke little new ground,” said The New York Times, which suggested that last night’s encounter merely “underscored that the differences between the two men on foreign policy rest more on tone, style and their sense of leadership than on particular policies.”
The NY Times continued: “While they varied in degree, the heart of their clash rested on who would pursue the same national goals more effectively and ensure America’s enduring economic and security role overseas.”
However, despite also wondering “whether this final debate will have anything like the impact of the first one,” the Los Angeles Times praised Obama’s performance and described last night’s encounter as “a mirror of the first debate between the two men in Denver.”
The LA Times observed that while "most Americans pay little sustained attention to foreign policy...the president's role as commander in chief does loom large in voters' minds," and "Obama clearly went into the debate believing that playing up that role would be his strong suit."
Indeed, knowing that Obama could rightly point out that he had brought an end to the war in Iraq and presided over the death of the US's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, Romney sought to take the wind out of the Preident's sails early on in the debate.
As the San Jose Mercury News noted: "Anticipating one of Obama's most frequent campaign assertions, Romney said of the man seated nearby, 'I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and taking on the leadership of al-Qaida. But we can't kill our way out of this. ... We must have a comprehensive strategy.'"
However, Obama was able to capitalise on bin Laden's death half an hour later into the debate, when the President "returned to the subject, saying that Romney had once said it wasn't worth moving heaven and earth to catch one man, a reference to the mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks.
"[Obama] said he had decided it was "worth heaven and earth."
The President also scored points by promising to bring the attackers of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month to justice, and his performance was lauded in the San Francisco Chronicle, which observed that “Barack Obama barely had to break a sweat in the final debate of the 2012 campaign.”
The Chronicle continued: “While the social media world was abuzz with tweets about Mitt Romney’s alleged perspiration problem, a cool, calculating Obama portrayed his Republican presidential challenger as an inconstant opportunist in a constantly dangerous world.
“The Democratic incumbent painted the former Massachusetts governor as an ill-informed novice,” during the course of what the paper called “a 90-minute encounter that Obama controlled, in substance and in style.”
However, much less gushing in praise was the Wall Street Journal, which noted that last night’s encounter was “far more sedate” than the second presidential debate. The Journal also gave prominent to quotes from Republican senator Rob Portman, who said: "I think [Romney] appeared more presidential. It was almost like he was the incumbent, and President Obama was the challenger who was behind and on the attack.”
USA Today also noticed the change in Romney’s debating style last night, saying: “The finger-pointing Romney from the first two debates was gone. Instead, seated across from Obama at a table, the former Massachusetts governor was more measured and less confrontational.
“He blasted Obama for tensions with Israel and questioned the effectiveness of his policies toward Iran. But his tone seemed to be one more of regret than anger, and on several fronts he said he agreed with the administration.”
Naturally, such a tactic prompted Obama to hit back at Romney, accusing him of “trying to airbrush history” by adopting more moderate policies than he had espoused in the past.
Additionally, Obama deployed a great deal of sarcasm to counter his opponent’s arguments. Responding to a criticism from Romney that the US Navy had fewer ships today than in 1916, the President was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times as saying: “We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.”
However “the most divisive moment came”, according to the Sun Times, “as the two talked about the auto industry.
“Obama has repeatedly hailed his actions to save the industry and blasted Romney, saying that the onetime Massachusetts governor said the United States should have allowed the industry to go bankrupt."
Romney's response was one of outrage, according to the paper, which said he seemed to "grow red-faced" as he spat back: “The idea that’s been suggested that I would liquidate the industry … that’s the height of silliness.”
While the more assertive Obama appeared the stronger of the two candidates last night, the Chicago Tribune opipned that the issues debated by the two candidates weren't perhaps of particularly great relevance to the one group of voters seen as crucial to the election's outcome: women.
“The topic of Monday night's debate was a break from the campaign's recent focus on abortion, birth control and other issues aimed primarily at female voters, who are seen as potentially the decisive bloc on Election Day,” said the Tribune, which emphasised the fact that last night's debate was primarily an opportunity for both candidates to "excite their supporters and motivate them to turn out for the Nov. 6 election.”
You can watch the whole of last night’s encounter below, if you'd like to make up your own mind about the issues under discussion and the outcome of the debate:
While there will be no further presidential debates, both candidates will be on the campaign trial for the next two weeks, and Barack Obama has been booked to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno this Wednesday.
In the meantime though, why not cast a vote in our poll and have your say on who you thought emerged as the winner of last night's debate?