The foreign policy debate: Is Mitt Romney at a disadvantage?

The business-savvy GOP nominee has relentlessly hammered Obama on the economy, but must now shift gears to an area in which he has little-to-no experience

The final presidential debate won't give Mitt Romney the chance to attack President Obama on economic issues.
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Obama and Mitt Romney will go head to head tonight in their third and final debate, the last time the two candidates will appear on the same stage before Election Day on Nov. 6. In recent weeks, Romney has surged in the polls to essentially tie the race, and a strong performance could help him sustain his momentum in the home stretch of the campaign. However, the final debate will focus on foreign policy, possibly undermining the Romney campaign's focus on economic issues, says Scott Conroy at Real Clear Politics:

From the day he announced his candidacy in June 2011, Mitt Romney has grounded his case for the Oval Office in what he calls President Obama's failure to reinvigorate the economy, asserting that his own business background gives him the experience and skill set to do a better job…

The parameters of the third and final presidential debate on Monday, therefore, pose a challenge for the Republican nominee: How does he make a strong final pitch to tens of millions of TV viewers when debating foreign policy rather than domestic issues?

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Even as Romney has made inroads convincing undecided voters of his abilities as an economic steward, he is running against a president whose approval rating on foreign policy remains high.

So does Romney enter the debate at a disadvantage? Yes, and it doesn't help that he has failed to capitalize on the Obama administration's muddled response to the terrorist attack in Benghazi, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post:

[Romney] has swung and missed twice on the issue. First, his campaign released a decidedly political statement before the news of [Ambassador Christopher] Stevens’ death broke. Then he lost the Libya back-and-forth in the second presidential debate as he tried to corner Obama and wound up cornered himself. If, in the final debate, Romney takes another big swing on Libya and comes up empty, his campaign may well look back on those three moments as one of the critical missed opportunities of the election.

But Romney can overcome his disadvantage by linking foreign policy to the economy, says Matt K. Lewis at The Daily Caller:

It stands to reason that when America is strong at home, she can project more influence internationally. These issues are all interrelated, and Romney shouldn’t let the opportunity pass without making the case that Obama’s economy has contributed to making America weaker abroad.

And even a middling performance by Romney may not affect the final trajectory of the race. That, at least, is what Team Romney believes, say Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen at Politico:

The Romney campaign sees this debate…as the last chance to move the needle in any significant way in the swing states that will decide the election…The hope inside the campaign is that Romney will emerge in no worse position, advisers said.

"The debates have not so much fundamentally changed the race as they have returned it to where it was before the Democratic convention," said Vin Weber, the Romney campaign’s special adviser on policy. "The candidates are close, and the economy is the Number One issue. Foreign policy is really important, but it is not driving this election."

A top Republican official put it more bluntly: "I don't think there are a lot of soft voters who are waiting to hear a position on the eurozone."

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