The next potential game-changing event for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be the third and final presidential debate on Monday, this time on foreign policy.
The challenge is probably greater for Romney, since he doesn't live with foreign policy decisions day in and day out the way an incumbent president does, and has less natural familiarity with them. As a former governor of Massachusetts and ex-businessman, economic policy has been Romney's area of expertise. But he has been taking his pre-debate education on world affairs and national security very seriously, advisers say, and will be ready to go on the offensive against President Obama as he has done in the first two debates.
The topics for Monday in Boca Raton, Fla., as determined by the commission organizing the debates, include America's role in the world, the Afghanistan war, Israel and Iran, the overall Middle East, terrorism, and China.
Of these subjects, Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, seems most comfortable talking about China because he can tie it to trade and economic policy, Republican sources say. Romney argues that the Obama administration has been too lax on Beijing for breaking trade rules, to the detriment of American businesses and job-seekers. More broadly, Romney is expected to steer Monday's debate to economic issues as much as he can.
Democrats predict that Romney will have particular problems if he ties himself too closely to unpopular policies of Republican President George W. Bush, such as involving the United States in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or seems too eager to get the United States involved in another conflict in the future.
So far, Romney has sounded more committed to a muscular foreign policy than Obama has, arguing that the United States needs to be more aggressive in pushing its policies around the world, while Obama sees foreign policy as more of a cooperative endeavor.
Specifically, Romney has criticized Obama for allowing Iran to proceed with a nuclear program that Romney, along with many U.S. and Israeli officials and experts, say is really designed to create a nuclear weapon.
Obama's key talking point, however, has been that he gave the order for the mission in which Navy SEALs killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. This, Democrats say, shows that Obama is tough on national security issues and knows what he's doing on the world stage.
Romney's potential problems became clear at this week's presidential debate on Long Island. He has been widely criticized in the media and by Democrats for his accusation that Obama took two weeks before he finally labeled as terrorism the recent killing of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Libya. Actually, as Obama pointed out in the debate Tuesday night, the president called the attack an "act of terror" on the day after it occurred. But other administration officials said at the time that the attack was due to a violent reaction in the Middle East against a controversial movie that derided the prophet Muhammad.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com.