President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger for the White House, faced each other for the final time before November 6 in the third presidential debate. Tonight’s contest was held in Boca Raton, Florida, and focused on foreign policy.
As with previous debates, each candidate was given two minutes to respond to each question, with a further minute for follow-ups. The forum was be hosted by veteran moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS.
Anna Fifield covered the debate live from Washington and Arash Massoudi from New York, with additional comments from FT colleagues. All times are EST.
23.42 And with that, we conclude our coverage of the third and final presidential debate. Be sure to share your final thoughts on the debate in our comment section below! Thanks for joining us for the last three weeks. We will see you next on election night.
23.40 Ed Luce ends the night with some scepticism about the impact of tonight’s debate on the overall election:
23.36 Stephanie Kirchgaessner, one of the FT’s US political correspondents, has dug through the archives to find a story about how Mr Romney’s holdings in China were connected to doing business in Iran, which Mr Obama cited during tonight’s debate.
23.34: And the latest set of post-debate results come from CNBC with 67 per cent of respondents said that Mr Obama won the debate, while 30 per cent said Mr Romney did.
23.29 Meanwhile, Mr Obama’s debate prep partner Senator John Kerry tweeted a reference to one of the president’s best sound bites of the evening:
23.25 Here’s what Republican strategist Karl Rove said about Mr Romney’s performance this evening:
23.18 CNN has posted the results of its post debate poll: 48 per cent of respondents said Mr Obama won, while 40 per cent said Mr Romney did.
23.11 Here’s Alan Beattie, the FT’s international economy editor, take on the debate on relations with China:
“Mr Romney repeated the falsity that he labelling Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, which he can’t do anyway, as he won’t have a Treasury Secretary in place , will enable him to impose tariffs on imports from China.
Mr Obama said that exports to China had doubled during his presidency, which largely reflects the fact that he took over at the depths of a collapse in global trade – a bit like saying that the weather got warmer in the six months after his inauguration in January. Imports from China have also soared, of course, but he didn’t mention that.”
23.05 One striking omission from the debate tonight: Europe.
The eurozone crisis is one of the biggest foreign threats to the US but there was no question on Europe and no mention of the eurozone’s fiscal troubles except for a few standard-issue references from Mr Romney to the president turning the US into “Greece”.
Here’s what FT Alphaville, Cardiff Garcia, had to say:
22.59 Here’s an instant poll from CBS news:
“@CBSNews: BREAKING: CBS NEWS INSTANT POLL Who won the #Debate? OBAMA: 53%; ROMNEY: 23%, TIE: 24% (Margin of Error: 4%; Sample Size: 521)”
22.50 Please share your views in the comment section below. Who won? What policies do you support? What issues did we not hear enough about?
22.42 Geoff Dyer found the debate less conclusive in producing an outright winner:
“Snap verdict: Obama more assured and scored more points, but Romney’s move to the centre took a lot of the heat out of the debate and he did not embarrass himself.”
22.41 Ed Luce has declared Mr Obama the victor of tonight’s contest, but doubts it will make much of a difference in the remaining days of the campaign.
22.36 Onto Mr Romney, who says he is optimistic about the US’s future, and that under his presidency that future would be more secure.
He shifts to the domestic economy and says he will make sure the US does not head down the president’s path – the same path as Greece – but will create jobs and restore the economy.
Mr Romney touts his record in Massachusetts to demonstrate that he has a record of bipartisanship.
22.33 Now onto closing statements. Mr Obama looks straight at the camera and says he has a vision for America that involves “building on our strengths,” and talks about energy, education and manufacturing.
Not until the end of his two minutes does he give a nod to the military, but mainly to say that, after a decade of war, it’s time for the US to do nation building at home. Almost no mention of foreign policy itself.
22.31 Discussing the bailout of automakers in Detriot, Mr Obama is keeping up his attacks on Mr Romney as a flip-flopper over how he would have handled the troubled US auto industry. “Governor, you keep on trying to airbrush history.”
22.26 Zing! The president accuses his rival of knowing all too well about China stealing jobs because he invested in companies that took American jobs overseas.
22.25 Geoff Dyer says Mr Romney is finally on a familiar ground:
“Romney’s most confident answer so far is on China and its trade practices. The first time he has given the impression of really knowing what he is talking about, rather than reciting talking points.”
22.23 Mr Romney, in a break from his usual tough rhetoric on China, starts by listing all the values that the US shares with China. Then, echoing Mr Obama, he says China is also an adversary.
Then Mr Romney is back to his usual self, saying he will label China a currency manipulator on day one of his presidency and crack down on illicit trade practices.
22.21 Geoff Dyer, former Beijing bureau chief, says the Obama administration may have some work to do tomorrow with Chinese counterparts.
“Obama described China as an ‘adversary’. Suspect that one might be walked back in the morning.”
22.19 Onto the evening’s final topic: the rise of China.
Mr Obama says China is both an adversary and a potential partner, as long as it is playing by the same rules as everyone else.
He immediately cites his decision to set up a trade task force to go after “cheaters” and highlights his administration’s efforts to crack down on tyres and steel produced with state subsidies.
22.16 One striking thing about this debate is the areas of foreign policy agreement between the candidates.
Mr Romney says he essentially supports what the Obama administration has done in Pakistan, including its use of drones on the border, although he says that the US needs to do more than “killing bad guys”.
22.12 Onto Pakistan. The moderator asks Mr Romney if it’s time to “divorce” Pakistan.
The Republican says no, that if Pakistan falls apart, its combination of terrorists and nuclear weapons could make it lethal.
“Obama starting to land some punches now – very effectively re-told the story of the bin Laden killing and Romney’s reluctance to ‘move heaven and earth’ to get him.”
22.07 Janan Ganesh, the FT’s political commentator based in London, is up late and sharing his thoughts on the debate.
22.04 The debate has become more heated. Mr Obama brings up his overseas trips when he was a presidential candidate to contrast with that of Mr Romney’s.
The president says he visited a Holocaust museum in Yad Vashem and a town on the border with the Gaza Strip that is regularly hit with missiles by people linked to Hamas.
“I didn’t do fundraisers, I didn’t take donors,” Mr Obama says, a hit at the Republican’s visit to Jerusalem with Sheldon Adelson, his biggest donor.
22.01 But Mr Romney soon gets his own back, saying of the president’s first Mideast tour: “By the way, you skipped Israel and they noticed.”
21.59 Mr Romney repeats his accusation that Mr Obama went on an “apology tour” around the world, talking down America.
Mr Obama says this is probably “the biggest whopper” of this campaign. The president throws a jab and says that while he was getting tough on Iran, Mr Romney still held investments in a Chinese oil company doing business with the mullahs.
21.57 On negotiations with Iran, Mr Obama says “those reports in a newspaper, they are not true,” (see our pre-debate post on the topic below).
He says that Iran is welcome back into the international community but only if they end their nuclear programme. Mr Obama accuses of Mr Romney of saying the same things as his administration on Iran but “saying them louder”.
21.55 Geoff Dyer says Mr Romney call for Ahmadinejad to be prosecuted under the genocide convention was a smart, tactical line:
“Would never stand up in court, but a safe way for him to sound tougher.”
21.52 Mr Romney is more direct, saying that the US has Israel’s back, not just militarily but culturally and economically.
21.50 The moderator asks the candidates if they would consider that an attack on Israel is an attack on the US.
Mr Obama responds circuitously, talking about his administration’s efforts to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, while highlighting the effects of “crippling” international sanctions.
21.47 Still talking about military spending and the budget, Mr Obama says that the US’s military needs have changed and that the US also has “fewer horses and bayonets”. “It’s not a game of Battleship,” he said.
21.46 Anna is monitoring a focus group of “Walmart moms” in Winter Park, Florida, who are turning a dial as they watch the debate to indicate their response to what the candidates are saying. The focus group organisers say that the women are responding well when the candidates tie the foreign policy debate to domestic values.
21.44 Finally – the candidates are back on topic with a question about military spending. Asked how he would fund a bigger military without expanding the budget, Mr Romney tacts to a different issue and says he would eliminate the president’s signature health care bill.
21.41 Geoff Dyer shares frustrations with Mr Schieffer:
“There is so much agreement on foreign policy that they have decided not to bother. They are now discussing education instead.”
21.39 “We have heard this in the other debates”, Mr Schieffer interjects.
Both candidates have been talking about education – Mr Romney, harking back to test scores among 4th graders in Massachusetts – and the moderator’s efforts to get them back onto foreign policy are so far failing dismally.
21.37 The candidates are all too aware of the need to talk to the viewers about the issues that concern them most.
Both have brought the domestic economy and the need to develop a strong base at home, including energy independence. But they are having to work hard to turn questions on international affairs into answers that resonate with voters.
21.35 Mr Romney has just stated that the US has “42 allies”. The strangely precise number is sparking some derision on Twitter.
21.33 Geoff Dyer agrees. He says, “Romney sounds robotic at times, as if he is reciting an unfamiliar script, but making few obvious mistakes.”
21.32 Ed Luce weighs in on the debate via Twitter:
“@EdwardGLuce: Romney has no depth or real grasp of these issues. But he sounds fluent… Obama needs to trip him up.”
21.29 For the US to be successful in the Mideast, Mr Obama says, it has to also do nation-building at home and invest in their own young people too.
Mr Romney, asked if he would have acted differently, says that he too would have called for Mubarak to go and that the idea of letting him crush his own people was not something he could have abided. This is a rare moment of agreement in an election campaign that has been riven by bitter divisions.
21.27 Next question: Egypt.
Mr Obama is asked if he was too hasty in saying Hosni Mubarak had to go. The president answers with a flat no, saying the US was making sure that kids in Tahrir Square were not run over by tanks, and talks of the changes since the Egyptian president’s over-throw in January last year.
21.24 Geoff Dyer is back with some thoughts on whether the US should play an active role in a change of leadership in Syria:
“Almost identical answers on Syria – both very cautious about arming the opposition.”
21.20 Mr Romney is fighting back. He calibrates his earlier statements on Russia and says he is looking at the country as a geopolitical threat through “clear eyes”, accusing the president of wearing rose coloured glasses.
The two candidates are battling it out over Mr Romney’s statements on Iraq. Mr Obama drops the words “commander in chief” into his answer as he seeks to draw a contrast between his record over the last four years and paint Mr Romney as relatively inexperienced.
Onto Syria, where the war has now spilled over into Lebanon. The moderator has asked if the US should be doing more to stop the violence in Syria.
21.17 Mr Romney says that the US’s role in the Middle East is to help the Muslim world reject terrorists by themselves, without the need for “another Iraq, another Afghanistan”.
Mr Obama lobs an early zinger, telling his rival that he’s glad he’s discovered the Middle East and mocks him for describing Russia as the country’s biggest threat only a few months ago.
Mr Obama says the 1980′s are calling and asking for their Cold War foreign policy back.
21.13 Geoff Dyer, the FT’s diplomatic correspondent, notes that Mr Romney declined to go on the attack in his initial response to the question on Libya:
“He is clearly going to try to come across as presidential, rather than risk appearing an angry critic of the administration.”
21.10 In his response, Mr Obama says, “My job is to keep the American people safe and that’s what I have done for the last four years.”
He notes that under his watch, the US has focused on the people who killed Americans on 9/11 — in Afghanistan.
He also defends his administration’s actions following the latest 9/11 attacks — on the US consulate in Benghazi. This has been a point of attack from Republicans, who have sharply criticised the administration for not ensuring the necessary level of security.
21.07 The first question is about Libya and the recent attacks, which claimed the lives of four Americans including the US Ambassador there.
After winning a coin toss, Mr Romney responds first and begins by listing areas of failure in the Middle East – trouble in Syria, Libya, Iran, Egypt and, somewhat tangentially, Mali.
He warns that “we can’t kill our way out of this mess” and says the US needs a “comprehensive strategy” to get out of this.
21.01 The debate is just about to begin. Please share your thoughts with us throughout the night in our comment section below.
20.59 The thorny issue of Iran took centre stage on the eve of the debate, when the New York Times reported that Washington and Tehran had agreed “in principle” to hold one-on-one negotiations with Iran in a last-ditch effort to avert a military strike on its nuclear programme.
Iranian officials had insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, the New York Times cited a senior Obama administration official as saying.
Both the White House and the Iranian regime swiftly denied the report, however. The issue is certain to be raised at tonight’s debate, with Republicans seizing on the report, despite the denials, as evidence that Mr Obama is weak on Iran.
20.51 Ed Luce, the FT’s chief US political commentator, wrote earlier that the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 still cast a shadow over US foreign policy:
“Debate viewers will be reminded that the war in Afghanistan – now by far America’s longest – has at least two more years to run. It still costs roughly $100bn a year.
But the biggest price tag of 9/11 may well pertain to what has not happened. In 2008 Mr Obama entered the White House promising a clean break with the Bush era and to renew America’s moral authority in the world. He began with a flurry of initiatives, including ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay within a year, putting terrorists on trial in US civilian courts, ending CIA rendition and banning torture.
Apart from the ban on waterboarding, each of Mr Obama’s proclamations ran into the quicksand of post-9/11 politics.”
20.45 Mr Romney’s closest personal aide shares this photo on Twitter of the Republican challenger with family and friends before the debate starts. It appears the Romney camp has engaged in a game of Jenga.
20.33 After the first two contests were widely watched, tonight’s debate must compete for air time against two of the most-viewed sporting events of the fall.
One Twitter user, (@pourmecoffee), remarks that may complicate things for some devoted fans of sports and politics:
“I don’t think undecided voters will be able to choose between the debate, baseball, and football tonight. They’ll just sit there paralyzed”
20:24 The polls also show the race has tightened in the crucial swing states, with the candidates tied in Florida and with Mr Obama’s lead in Ohio halving to five points in its latest survey from a September poll by Quinnipiac University/CBS News .
Overall, the average of national polls collated by Real Clear Politics gives Mr Romney a whisker of an advantage, showing him up 0.8 points with 47.7 per cent support.
20:14 Heading into tonight, Mr Obama and Mr Romney are locked in a dead heat. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of likely voters nationwide put the men tied at 47 per cent support each, while a Reuters/Ipsos poll put them level at 46 per cent.
20.08 We are just under one hour away from the start of tonight’s debate. Throughout the evening, please share your thoughts below on the most memorable moments and your predictions on who you think is winning.