Obama and Romney seek edge in final debate

A worker prepares the backdrop for Monday's presidential campaign debate in Boca Raton, Florida, 21 October 2012 Image copyright AP
Image caption Monday's debate on foreign policy will be held in Boca Raton, Florida

On the high way into Boca Raton where the final debate is being held, there are a couple of large billboards showing President Obama bowing to a man in full Arab dress.

I couldn't spot who paid for it, but it is of a piece with the Romney campaign allegations that Obama has made America weak in the world.

Obama campaign advisors tell me that in office Mr Romney could inadvertently stumble into new wars.

This debate could be even more aggressive than the last one.

Those saying this final Presidential debate will be "crucial" or "pivotal" may be going over the top. Most Americans care more about the economy.

But with the latest opinion poll suggesting the race to the White House is a dead heat, any chance for either candidate to gain an advantage is important. The smallest hiccup could prove a pivot or provide momentum.

The NBC Wall Street Journal poll indicates likely voters break even: 47% for Romney, 47% for Obama.

It's generally thought that Mr Obama should have the edge in a foreign policy debate - after all he is the president, a novice when he came to power but now an old hand.

Mr Romney's first foreign trip as candidate was a near disaster and many have judged his foreign policy pronouncements as ill thought-out.

But his promise of stronger American leadership and his condemnation of the president as weak is potent among supporters.

That may be a danger. Many Republicans instinctively agree that President Obama has apologised for America, and failed to lead from the front.

Convincing others of that in a debate with the man himself may be more tricky.

Mr Obama has been careful to appear tough on national security.

His biggest boast is the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the "degrading" of al-Qaeda. He would say he has rebuilt America's image in the world after the Bush era and he's ended America's two wars.

It's likely the debate will get down to specifics.

Mr Romney in particular condemns Mr Obama's handling of the revolutions that have swept the Arab world. He says he dithered in Egypt and Libya and has failed to give strong support to rebels in Syria.

The murder of the American ambassador in Benghazi found him on the back foot in the last debate, but he is bound to return to his accusations against the administration.

The rest of the world will be watching closely.

Many allies hope that Mr Romney's tougher rhetoric is just that - hard words in an election campaign that do not predict how he would behave in office.

But here in America this will be about character and who looks more like a commander-in-chief.