Undecided voters will have their last chance to observe both presidential candidates on the same debate stage when they talk foreign policy tonight.
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will discuss their foreign policy approaches at the third and final debate at 9 p.m. at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
J. Michael Hogan, liberal arts research professor and co-director of the Center for Democratic Deliberation, said it’s unlikely the debate will be focused solely on foreign policy, because the candidates will try to talk about what they want.
“Romney’s best strategy is to focus even the foreign policy debate on the economy and how weakness in the economy makes us vulnerable,” Hogan said.
Michael Berkman, a Penn State professor of political science, said the debate should give voters a sense of whether or not Romney is as fluent in the complexities of foreign affairs as Obama.
In response to questions about the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, Obama will need to say that he’s going to investigate it until he gets to the bottom of it, Berkman said. He said the Libya situation may have been diffused by moderator Candy Crowley in the last debate.
Berkman said tonight’s moderator, CBS’ Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, should ask follow-up questions and challenge the candidates’ assertions. He should be more like Crowley and vice presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz, who acted like journalists, and less like Jim Lehrer, Berkman said.
Michael Mahon, president of Penn State’s Political Science Association, said he hopes Schieffer takes a balanced approach. Mahon (junior-political science and economics) said he hopes the moderator allows the debate to progress naturally and not allow the candidates to talk more than the allotted time.
“Lehrer was too weak, and he let them walk all over him, basically,” Mahon said. “But at the same time, I think Crowley got too involved in the debate.”
Obama should emphasize that any president needs to tread carefully and try to contrast himself as much as possible to Romney’s response, Berkman said.
He said the candidates might also take questions on Iran’s development of nuclear technology, as well as currency disputes with China.
China has been accused of manipulating its currency to improve its trade. Obama will have a more diplomatic approach to China, whereas Romney is more likely to “draw a line in the sand,” Hogan said.
Hogan said Obama and Romney need to clarify any differences between their positions on Iran. Both said it’s unacceptable for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, Hogan said.
“That will be a good topic for this debate to see if there are any clear differences that emerge between the candidates,” Hogan said.
But debates are about more than just policy, Berkman said.
He said debates help voters focus their attention and solidify their vote choice. They generate enthusiasm for the candidates, Berkman said.
“People also need to get a sense of who these people are who are essentially going to be president,” Berkman said.
Hogan said the debates have a lot of value to voters who don’t pay much attention to politics and are still persuadable. There are few of those voters left right now, but the race is close enough that they could make a difference, Hogan said.
Mahon said along with their own fact-finding, debates are a good opportunity for undecided voters to get information.
The strength of each candidate’s arguments will depend on presentation, Mahon said.
“It’s ultimately how they can state what they think in a coherent, intelligible way that will win the debate, rather than throwing facts and figures out,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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