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Moments after he traded barbs with Mitt Romney about foreign policy, President Obama showed his friendlier side in the face of one of Romney's grandchildren as families converged onstage. After the hostilities of the last three presidential debates, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama took the time to meet the Romney clan and Miles, one of Mitt's youngest grandchildren.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama renewed their personal hostilities against each other last night, triggering explosive exchanges over foreign affairs in the final presidential debate.
A sarcastic U.S. president repeatedly patronised his Republican opponent, accusing him of being ‘all over the map’ on how to deal with the world, ‘wrong and reckless’ and in one taunt claimed that Romney was so outdated in his military thinking that he treated ‘like a game of Battleship’, and mocked him for living in a time of 'horses and bayonets'.
But Romney held his own in the face of Obama's sustained assaults, working hard to establish his credentials as a sober and steady statesman with an obviously well-briefed analysis of world matters, from Iran to Poland to Mali.
Early polling gave Obama the victory in the battle, but whether he will go on to win the war remains to be seen as it is still unclear whether he has done enough to stop Romney's momentum and erode his slight national lead.
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Clash: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama locked horns in the third presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida
Aggression: Obama launched a series of negative assaults on Romney's relative inexperience
Standing firm: A well-briefed Romney held up against the constant attacks on his policies
‘It's nice to maybe be funny this time, not on purpose.’
Replying to criticism:
'Well, Mr President, foreign policy - by definition - is supposed to be all over the map.'
On his opponent:
'Attacking me is not an agenda.'
On the Arab Spring:
'We can't kill our way out of this mess.'
On Obama's 'apology tour':
'Mr President, we have not dictated to other nations, we have freed other nations from dictators.'
On America's role in the world:
'The mantle of leadership for promoting the principles of peace has fallen to America. We didn’t ask for it. But it’s an honour that we have it.'
On Romney’s idea of world leadership:
‘Wrong and reckless and all over the map.’
On Romney's inexperience:
'I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.'
On Cold War rhetoric:
'The 1980s are calling to ask for their policy back.'
On Romney saying the U.S. has fewer ships and planes:
‘We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of the military has changed. It's not a game of Battleship.’
'You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.'
The two bitter rivals were meeting for the final time at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, with all to play for in a neck-and-neck race for the White House.
CNN's survey of debate-watchers showed that 48 considered the President the winner, with 40 per cent favouring Romney. A CBS poll had Obama in front with 53 per cent compared to just 23 per cent for Romney.
One contest Obama undoubtedly won was that of loquaciousness - the President spoke for 41 minutes and 42 seconds, 35 seconds longer than Romney. The Democratic candidate had the majority of speaking time in all four presidential or vice-presidential debates this year.
It was Obama who appeared to be the challenger at times – a clear sign that he fears his re-election hopes are slipping away from him – hammering away at Romney, trying to belittle him and all but calling him a liar.
Romney tried to remain above the fray and appeal to moderate and undecided voters. He was noticeably less tetchy than in the bad-tempered second debate in Hempstead, New York.
But the Republican nominee hit home with a precise attack on Obama’s ‘apology tour’ of the Middle East in 2009, which seemed to rile Obama visibly. He said that the President had said he was sorry the U.S. had dictated to countries, adding: ‘Mr President we have not dictated to other nations, we have freed other nations from dictators’.
The Romney campaign appeared confident in the aftermath of the debate, arguing that Obama was 'shedding voters' and was 'trying to manage the rate of decline' in support ahead of election day.
'We entered this debate in a good position and we leave it in a stronger position,' said strategist Stuart Stevens. 'Whatever is that intangible quality of being presidential and who you would trust, Governor Romney had it more than the President.'
Speaking about Obama's performance in Boca Raton, Stevens added: 'It was not the demeanour you would expect of a President. He came in with a bunch of political talking points like a young fresh graduate of a spin class trying to come off with these points.'
But the President's campaign manager Jim Messina described Romney as 'unsteady', adding that he 'did not look like a commander-in-chief. He did not pass the test and that's a very bad moment for the Romney campaign.'
He continued: 'The contrast tonight was between a strong and steady President and an uncertain Romney and that's how incumbent presidents get re-elected.'
Showdown: The two candidates had their last chance to face off against each other before the election
Best of friends? The pair met again just six days after their brutal clash in Long Island last week
Nice to see you? The debate was the third time the two candidates had met in the past week
'APOLOGY TOUR' - ROMNEY'S FIERCEST ATTACK
Romney reserved his harshest words for the President's post-election 'apology tour', an argument which has long been at the heart of Romney's criticism of Obama's foreign policy.
He pointed out that he had visited countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey in order to improve America's image in the Middle East - though Romney added, 'By the way, you skipped Israel.'
The Republican defended the U.S.'s intervention in global politics in the past, saying: 'America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.'
Obama denied that he had intended to apologise for America, describing the claim as a 'whopper'.
'THE 1980S WANT THEIR POLICY BACK' - OBAMA GETS AGGRESSIVE
Obama took the opportunity to attack Romney for having once claimed that Russia was 'the biggest geopolitical threat' to America.
'The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War's been over for 20 years,' the President quipped.
He gave another criticism of Romney's worldview as he said his opponent 'hasn't spent enough time studying how our military works,' pointing to the GOP candidate's call for the Navy to build more ships.
'He says we have fewer ships - well we also have fewer horses and bayonets,' Obama said, adding: 'It's not a game of Battleship.'
The President also pointed out that Romney had little hands-on foreign policy experience, saying: 'Every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong.'
Families: Michelle Obama and Ann Romney joined their husbands on stage at the end of the final meeting between the fierce political rivals
Making friends: President Obama meets Miles Romney on stage after the debate
LIBYA - ROMNEY PULLS HIS PUNCHES ON BENGHAZI
Many expected a huge showdown over the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi which killed the ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
Romney has in the past joined a chorus of Republican criticism over how the Obama administration has handled the September 11 raid - but the issue barely came up during the debate.
He briefly mentioned the assault, saying that America's 'hearts and minds' were with its victims, before moving to a broader assessment of the situation in the Middle East.
The GOP challenger avoided attacking Obama over Libya, instead saying that the country 'seems to be making some progress', and saying that he would take steps to reduce jihadist influence over the Arab Spring.
The President seemed grateful to stay away from the controversy which has dogged him for six weeks, as he was not forced to defend the security and intelligence failures which attended the attack.
IRAN AND ISRAEL - ROMNEY ACCUSES OBAMA OF FAILURE
When it came to the matter of protecting Israel and preventing Iran, on the other hand, the two had some of their fiercest disagreements.
Romney said that Iran was 'four years closer to building a nuclear bomb', thanks to Obama's failure to slow down the secretive process.
He also accused the President of failing to be sufficiently close to Israel, promising: 'If I'm President of the United States - when I'm President of the United States - I will stand with Israel.'
But Obama was also keen to prove his own pro-Israel credentials, twice referring to the country as 'a true friend and our closest ally in the region'.
He also reminisced about visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, saying he went 'to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable'.
And there seemed to be a limit to the candidates' love of Israel, as neither would confirm that he would regard an attack on the nation as equivalent to an attack on America.
Happy? Romney clearly thought he had held his own as he thanked the audience at the end of the evening
Affection: The First Couple embraced in front of the eyes of the nation in Boca Raton
SYRIA - TIME FOR ASSAD TO GO (BUT WITHOUT THE U.S. MILITARY)
Overall, the clash was less intense than last week's brutal meeting in Long Island - partly because the rivals broadly agree on many areas of foreign policy.
On Syria, both criticised dictatorial president Bashar Assad, but refused to say that they would commit troops to the country.
'I am confident that Assad's days are numbered,' Obama said as Romney insisted, 'Syria is an opportunity for us.'
AL QAEDA AND BIN LADEN - OBAMA'S STRONGEST SUIT
The pair agreed on the danger posed by Al Qaeda around the world - and Romney pre-empted Obama's most effective attack line, the death of Osama bin Laden, as he answered the very first question by congratulating the President on his achievement in killing the terrorist leader.
It took Obama nearly an hour to bring up the assassination, despite speculation he would put the bin Laden killing at the centre of his argument throughout the evening.
In defending his decision to pursue the risky mission, he referred to a conversation with a girl who was four years old when her father died on 9/11.
'She said to me, "You know, by finally getting bin Laden, that brought some closure to me,"' he recounted.
Delight: The Romneys celebrate the end of debate season, accompanied by their large family
The important things in life: Romney demonstrates his affection for his grandson as Obama looks relieved
'WE CAN'T KILL OUR WAY OUT OF THIS MESS' - MITT SOFTENS HARD LINE
Romney seemed to soften the Republican Party's neoconservative line on national security as he repeatedly insisted, 'We can't kill our way out of this problem.'
The former governor of Massachusetts added: 'We don't want another Iraq, we don't want another Afghanistan - that's not the right course for us,' promising to keep the U.S. military out of Syria.
He offered an oblique jab at his GOP predecessor George W. Bush, who was an ally of Egypt's deposed president Hosni Mubarak, saying that the U.S. should have been prepared for a transition to democracy in the country 'at the beginning of [Obama]’s term and even further back than that'.
For the first time, the Republican candidate promised to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, as Obama has previously pledged.
Romney's apparent rejection of neoconservative orthodoxy dismayed many right-wingers. Fiery radio host Glenn Beck tweeted, 'I am glad to know that Mitt agrees with Obama so much. No, really. Why vote?'
CHINA - TOUGH TALK BUT NOT MANY DIFFERENCES
The final question of the night was about China - and once again, the candidates talked tough but revealed few substantial differences between them.
Romney repeated his pledge to label the country a 'currency manipulator', while Obama pointed to tariffs he had imposed on Chinese goods flooding American markets.
The President said to his opponent, 'You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas,' an assault on Romney's private-equity background.
But the GOP challenger vowed to be more aggressive with China in order to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S., promising to tell the country's government: 'You can’t keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even to the United States.'
Thanks for coming: The two candidates shake hands with members of the audience at Lynn University
Cutting loose: The Romneys appeared happy and relaxed at the end of the hard-fought debate
DOMESTIC POLICY - BOTH CANDIDATES GO OFF-TOPIC
Both candidates seemed keen to divert the debate, which they had agreed should be devoted to foreign affairs, back towards domestic issues such as the economy and education.
Romney pointed out that the U.S. needs to maintain its economic strength if it is to remain politically dominated - and then took the opportunity to go on the offensive by attacking the weak recovery overseen by Obama over the past four years.
The President in return accused his rival of planning to cut education funding and implementing policies which would harm small businesses.
When Romney returned to the topic of education, promising to hire more staff as he said, 'I love teachers,' Schieffer pointed out: 'I think we all love teachers.'
THE MODERATOR - 'GO VOTE', SAYS SCHIEFFER
The debate was divided into six 15-minute segments, with each candidate given two minutes to answer Schieffer's opening questions before the moderator followed up with further questions.
The CBS veteran took a tough line on both candidates, strictly enforcing time limits and denying each the chance to answer allegations presented by the other.
He closed the debate on a humorous note, saying: 'I'll leave you with the words of my mom, who said, "Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong."'
Challenge: Romney was attempting to establish his credibility on foreign policy, where he has little experience
Attack: Obama said that Romney's foreign policy was 'wrong and reckless and all over the map'
In control: CBS's Bob Schieffer was in the moderator's chair for the final debate in Boca Raton
Both men spent the weekend in rehearsals, the president at Camp David in Maryland and Romney in Florida. They paid brief visits to the debate hall in the hours before the start of the event.
Obama and Romney are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. For both men, the final days of the long campaign are likely to be a whirlwind of rallies in far-flung battleground states.
The televised debate brought no stop to other campaigning. Obama's campaign launched a television ad in Florida that said the President ended the war in Iraq and has a plan to do the same in Afghanistan, accusing Romney of opposing him on both.
Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Canton, Ohio, emphasised differences between the two candidates on the war in Afghanistan.
'We will leave Afghanistan in 2014, period. They say it depends,' he said. 'Ladies and gentlemen, like everything with them, it depends. It depends on what day you find these guys.'
Romney's running mate, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, was in Colorado. 'We are in the midst of deciding the kind of country we're going to be, the kind of people we're going to be, for a generation,' he said.
Anticipation: Michelle Obama in the audience in Boca Raton
Darker: The two wives were dressed in sombre tones compared to the hot pink they sported last week
Standing out: Ann Romney takes her seat in front of the audience at Lynn University
Tension: The whole Romney family played games in a holding room ahead of the debate
Romney was widely judged the winner of the first debate over a listless President on October 3, but Obama was much more energetic in the second.
Monday night marked the third time in less than a week that the president and his challenger shared a stage, following the feisty 90-minute town-hall-style meeting last Tuesday on Long Island and a white-tie charity dinner two night later where gracious compliments flowed and barbs dipped in humour flew.
At the Al Smith dinner, Obama previewed his all-purpose fallback to criticism on international affairs.
'Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden,' he said, a reminder of the signature foreign policy triumph of his term, the death at the hand of U.S. special operations forces of the mastermind behind the terror attacks on the United States more than a decade ago.
The President and his challenger agreed long ago to devote one of their three debates to foreign policy, even though opinion polls show voters care most about economic concerns.
Arrival: Obama dismounts from Air Force One upon his arrival in Florida ahead of the debate on Monday
Downtime: Romney with his wife Ann and the family of his son Craig heading off to dinner on Sunday evening
Getting ready: Obama reads a briefing during his weekend getaway at Camp David
Bonding? Romney plays with his grandson Miles while the family dines in Delray Beach, Florida
In recent weeks, the former Massachusetts governor has stepped up his criticism of the president's handling of international matters, although his campaign hasn't spent any of its television advertising budget on commercials on the subject.
In a speech earlier this month, Romney accused the president of an absence of strong leadership in the Middle East, where popular revolutions have swept away autocratic regimes in Egypt and elsewhere in the past two years.
He has also accused Obama of failing to support Israel strongly enough, of failing to make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon and of backing cuts in the defense budget that would harm military readiness.
However, Romney has stumbled several times in attempting to establish his own credentials. He offended the British when he traveled to England this summer and made comments viewed as critical of the preparation for the Olympic Games.
Democrats pounced when he failed to mention the U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in late August, and officials in both parties were critical of his comments about the attack in Benghazi while the facts were unknown.
Earlier this fall, a videotape surfaced showing him telling donors: 'The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.'
Watch highlights of the final presidential debate here