Barack Obama and Mitt Romney entered the October 22nd presidential debate with different objectives. Obama needed to build upon the momentum from his last debate victory. Romney had to convince voters he is qualified to serve as Commander-in-Chief. Obama succeeded because he found his voice.
It was a reversal of the first debate where Obama was professorial and pensive, while Romney appeared assertive and competent. In the third debate the Republican candidate was the one with the "deer caught in the headlights" expression.
Obama prevailed because he bested the Republican on each foreign policy issue. The first question concerned Libya and Romney had a chance to blame the president for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. Instead he rambled. Obama countered with his theme for the evening, "Governor Romney, I'm glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after al Qaida, but... your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East."
Romney responded weakly and Obama pounced:
"I'm glad that you recognize that al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al Qaida... But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s."
Romney claimed that America's influence in the world had diminished over the course of the Obama administration. Again, the President attacked:
"Both at home and abroad, [Governor Romney] has proposed wrong and reckless policies. He's praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment. And taking us back to those kinds of strategies that got us into this mess are not the way that we are going to maintain leadership in the 21st century."
Moderator Schieffer asked Romney why he wanted a bigger military and the Republican gave an example, "Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917." Obama responded with his best line of the night:
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, 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 ships that go underwater; nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of 'Battleship' where we're counting ships. It's: What are our capabilities?"
Romney seemed to wilt after this exchange. A few minutes later, the discussion turned to Iran and the Republican said the Iranian leaders saw us as weak, "The president began what I have called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness." Obama retorted, "Nothing Governor Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign." Before Romney could respond, the president continued, "While we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure [Iranian] sanctions were effective, you were still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector."
Romney sputtered Obama had made America weak. Obama responded, "Governor, the problem is that on a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's Afghanistan, whether it's Iraq, whether it's now Iran, you've been all over the map."Romney's conclusion was tepid:
"[If I am President] we have an opportunity to have real leadership... and continue to promote principles of peace to make a world a safer place and make people in this country more confident that their future is secure."
Obama said he would make tough national security decisions and Romney wouldn't.
"As Commander-in-Chief, I will maintain the strongest military in the world, keep faith with our troops and go after those who would do us harm. But after a decade of war, I think we all recognize we've got to do some nation building here at home, rebuilding our roads, our bridges and especially caring for our Veterans who sacrificed so much for our freedom... if I have the privilege of being your president for another four years, I promise you I will always listen to your voices. I will fight for your families and I will work every single day to make sure that America continues to be the greatest nation on earth."
This debate was about who was best qualified to be Commander-in-Chief. Romney's listless manner indicated he did not understand the job. Obama obviously does. With the presidential contest a dead heat, Barack found his mojo at the right time.