Tonight is the Third Presidential Debate–and the last chance for the candidates to present themselves on a national stage before Election Day. The subject will be foreign policy, which has not been a focus for most voters, at least until recent events in the Middle East. The viewing audience will also be smaller, as the debate is competing with a Monday Night Football game and Game 7 of the National League championship.
For some of those who follow politics closely–especially those who think President Barack Obama won the second debate–tonight’s debate has a decisive quality, with the winner of the best-of-three series going on to hoist a trophy of sorts. But in many ways Mitt Romney has won already by presenting himself as a capable, solution-oriented candidate, quite the opposite of the caricature the Obama campaign had painted.
There is very little that either candidate can do tonight to change the dynamic of the race. Barring a catastrophic gaffe by Romney, Obama is not going to disqualify his rival, as had once hoped to do. And barring a major stumble by Obama, Romney’s growing lead in the polls is not going to become a commanding one. The best Obama can do is present his best case–Osama bin Laden–while defending the rest of his record.
Romney has a choice. He can simply present his talking points, and do well enough, as long as he parries Obama’s attacks. He can pursue a more aggressive approach, and chase down the inconsistencies, errors and faults in Obama’s policy. He will have to be judicious in choosing which approach is best for each stage of the debate, keeping in mind that only one man in the room already has Commander-in-Chief on his resume.