The third US presidential debate

Key Points

  • The third and final presidential debate before the US election on 6 November 2012 has just finished in Boca Raton, Florida
  • President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney shook hands after 90 minutes of sparring
  • Foreign policy was the theme of the evening - questions included Libya, China, Israel and the war in Afghanistan

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    Welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the third and final US presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The debate starts at 21:00 EST (1:00 GMT Tuesday) and we'll be bringing you minute-by-minute updates, analysis and appraisal from our US and foreign policy experts as well as your tweets and emails.


    Foreign policy is the theme of the evening. Pundits expect whole chunks of the evening will be devoted to topics ranging from the threat of a nuclear Iran and escalating violence in Syria, to an emerging China and the debt crisis in Europe.


    The 90-minute debate is taking place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. With 15 days to go until the election, Florida is one of a handful of key swing states considered to be still up for grabs - and with 29 electoral college votes, Florida is a prize the candidates are clamouring to win. Have a play around with our electoral college calculator to see the various roads to the White House.


    Veteran TV anchorman Bob Schieffer of CBS News will be moderating the debate, and pundits say his performance tonight will be closely watched too. CNN's Candy Crowley and Jim Lehrer of PBS were both criticised after the first two debates for intervening too much and too little respectively.


    The BBC's Helena Merriman tweets: Behind the scenes at #lynndebate @bbcnewsus

    Press centre at Lynn University, Florida 22 October 2012

    Schieffer is going to take the candidates through six 15-minute segments, addressing a different foreign policy issue in each part. After asking the candidates a question, each man will have two minutes to answer, and then the moderator will guide the discussion from there. Romney gets the first response and the last closing statement - as decided by separate coin tosses.


    Pundits say that what happens on stage tonight couldn't be more important - even though voters generally don't care as much about foreign policy as they do about jobs and the economy.

    Sam Stein

    tweets: regardless of how tonight plays out, obama is a winner. he never has to do a debate again.


    Hours before the debate, an opinion poll from ABC News/Washington Post gave a one point lead to Obama, with 49% versus 48% for Romney.


    And, you can have a look at our poll tracker to see how the candidates have fared in recent weeks - and to remind yourself of how tight this race is shaping up to be.


    The candidates have been lying low all weekend - Obama was preparing for the debate at Camp David, a presidential retreat in the wooded hills of Maryland, while Romney has been in Florida. We've got our own handy guide on how to get ready for a presidential debate.

    Jeff Mason, Reuters White House Correspondent

    tweets: @BarackObama's motorcade is driving past some cheering supporters on the road to the university. So far, more Dems than Repubs are out.


    Speaking of polls, the BBC World Service found in its survey of global attitudes towards the US election that there was an overwhelming preference for Obama over Romney. Out of 21 countries surveyed, Pakistan was the only one that preferred the Republican.


    tweets: Let's see how how often #Romney will shift the focus from #ForeignPolicy to the #Economy. Obama will have to follow in tonight's #debate.


    Backstage in Florida, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, tells the BBC's Jude Sheerin that Romney's foreign policy experience involved "chest-beating and gaffe after gaffe".


    @dgjackson, a Romney aide, tweets: Romney's having a great time before start of the debate. #LynnDebate #RomneyRyan2012

    Romney family backstage before presidential debate Boca Raton, Florida 22 October 2012

    Meanwhile, former presidential candidate John McCain told the BBC's Jude Sheerin, in the press centre ahead of the debate, that Romney was qualified to take the proverbial 3am call on a foreign policy crisis because "he [Romney] would never deceive the American people the way the president of the United States has over Libya".


    The moderator, CBS's Bob Schieffer, is on stage now. Not long to go before the main men come out.

    Mark Knoller, CBS News White House Correspondent

    tweets: Ann Romney and Michelle Obama are recognized and get standing ovation from the audience.


    In the final minutes before the head-to-head gets under way, the BBC's Mark Mardell predicts that the candidates will be offering two very different approaches to foreign affairs.

    Sam Townsend, UK

    emails: The last debate was very close. Although we hear that many Americans are more interested in the economy and jobs than foreign policy, I think this final debate will be a pivotal point in the starkly close election campaign.


    tweets: Hoping for a little less tension in tonight's debate. More focus on the issues, less arguing. #debate #lynn debate


    ...Here they are! Obama and Romney striding towards each other, exchanging a a few words and a quick shake of hands. They have taken a seat on either side of a large half-moon desk, facing the moderator.


    The first question is on Libya.


    Romney's the first to answer. He is quick to mention the death of Osama bin Laden, but opens with a broad attack on Obama's foreign policy.


    Obama's turn: He has jumped in to defend his response to a fatal attack on the US consulate in the Libya city of Benghazi on 11 September. He says it is important to step back and think about what has happened in Libya.


    The president goes on to tell Romney that his foreign policy has been "all over the map".


    Obama is staring intently at Romney as the former governor answers, and nodding his head in agreement.


    In his rebuttal, Romney says another war like that in Iraq or Afghanistan is not the right course. But, he says, the US must help the Muslim world to reject extremism on its own. He says gender equality and the rule of law are key.

    David Mark, Editor-in-Chief of Politix

    tweets: Candidates revert to form: Obama in blue tie, Romney wearing red.


    Barely 10 minutes in, Obama is reminding Romney that he previously identified Russia as the number one geo-political threat to the US. And he mentions that Romney has never been in a position to execute foreign policy.


    Obama is hammering home the message that Romney has been inconsistent in his positions on foreign policy. But there is already plenty of bickering on stage.

    2116: Kim Ghattas BBC state department correspondent

    Romney puts having a president of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt among the list of "disturbing events".


    Pavel Fedenko of BBC Russia Service says: "Russians already see Obama as more willing than Romney to compromise with Putin's Russia. The fact that Obama chose to pursue this line in the debate and Romney's description of Russia as a geopolitical foe will reinforce this perception in Moscow."


    The presidential candidates trade barbs at close range

    Barack Obama (left) and Mitt Romney (right) on the debate stage
    2120: Kim Ghattas BBC state department correspondent

    What Romney is suggesting - to invest in the economy, women issues in the Arab world - is in fact what the Obama administration has been doing.


    On Syria, Obama is defending is record, calling his approach "steady, thoughtful leadership". But Romney says he would go further, if elected. He would give arms to Syrian rebels.


    Discussion turns to Egypt. Romney says he supported President Obama's decision to call for the former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to step aside.

    2127: Jonny Dymond BBC News, Chicago

    Who's winning I ask a Chicago liquor store owner watching #LynnDebate 'the Bears, ten to nil' he replies, not missing a beat @BBCNewsUS


    The former governor hasn't forgotten about domestic issues, however. He mentions a comment from Admiral Mike Mullen, the former joint chiefs of staff, that the national debt is the greatest threat to its national security.


    We must strengthen our economy at home before we can project American values abroad, says Romney.

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    #LynnDebate. Interesting tactic from Romney. Not trying to beat Obama or deride him - but trying to sound Presidential @BBCNewsUS


    BBC Brasil producer Luis Barrucho says: "#Brazilians expressing surprise on the social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook that Mitt Romney appears to think Syria could be an opportunity for the US" #LynnDebate

    @seans_s, Australia

    tweets: Good, Obama finally points out that both their Syria plans are identical #debate

    2132: Pavel Fedenko Producer, BBC Russian

    Russians already see Obama as more willing than Romney to compromise with Putin's Russia. The fact that Obama chose to pursue this line in the debate and Romney's description of Russia as a geopolitical foe will reinforce this perception in Moscow.

    2132: Kim Ghattas BBC state department correspondent

    Romney's statement that the US should have worked more ''aggressively'' with allies in the region to help bring about reforms in Mideast before the turmoil erupted has echoes of Bush's freedom agenda and Iraq war


    Obama calls the US the one "indispensable nation", before indulging in a quick runthrough of his main talking points on domestic economic policy.


    The BBC's Jude Sheerin at the debate says: Romney appears to be staying away from the attack line that the Obama administration misled American voters over the attack on the Libyan US consulate.


    It's Romney's turn to go through his five-point economic plan. But he does single out Latin America as a huge economic opportunity for the US, before moving on...

    Sun Yaqi, China

    emails: Barack Obama has promised a lot, but very little has he done.

    2136: Jude Sheerin BBC Online

    Obama pivots to domestic policy, repeating his campaign line that he wants to bring manufacturing jobs home, while saying that Romney's plan would boost the deficit. Romney touts his business background, saying that he will get the US on track to a balanced budget.


    The moderator interjects, saying: "Let's get back to foreign policy." But not before Romney recaps his achievements in Massachusetts on education policy.


    "That happened before you came into office!" the president says, energetically.

    Kim Ghattas BBC state department correspondent

    This debate is quite wonky, and I must say rather boring so far, lots of grand statements, big words... with a long detour through the US economy, still the key issue.

    2140: Luis Barrucho, BBC Brasil producer

    Veteran Brazilian US correspondent Gustavo Chacra says debate moderator Bob Schieffer has been performing "way better" than his predecessors #LynnDebate


    "The math simply doesn't work," Obama says. A line we've heard before. But he's defending his cuts to the military, saying the US can reduce its deficit without compromising national security.

    Mia, US

    emails: Am I missing something? I thought that this debate would be about foreign policy - only. The debate leader is letting both parties to sidetrack. I am losing interest for this reason. Not that it will lead me to change my mind. President Obama is still my president.


    Gary Duffy from BBC Brasil tweets:"#US goods exports to #Brazil in 2011 were $42.9 billion, up 21.2% ($7.5 billion) from 2010" #lynndebate


    The candidates are still talking about the economy. Romney attacks the president, saying he hasn't managed to balance a budget during his time in office. The former governor also says he would never make $1 trillion of cuts to the US military.


    Kapow! Gloves off in the blue corner! Obama tells Romney that while it's true the US military has less heavy equipment today, it also has fewer horses and bayonets. Romney doesn't respond directly.

    2146: Jude Sheerin, BBC News, Florida

    Laughter in the press corps at Obama's "horses and bayonets" line.


    Now Iran. Obama says the sanctions have crippled the economy.


    What Iran has said about Israel is unacceptable, says Obama. They can end their nuclear programme or face a "united world" opposing them. Referring to Romney, the president says military action should be the last resort, not the first.


    Sanctions do work, says Romney, although we should have done it earlier. Military action is the last resort and should only be considered if all other avenues have been tried.


    Former editor of BBC Russian service, Konstantin von Eggert: Math teachers?! Am I watching a wrong debate? #Romney #Obama


    tweets: David Dimbleby would never have let this #lynndebate veer as wildly off-topic as Bob has.


    Obama to Romney: There were times when it sounded like you would do the same things as us, but you would say it louder. Romney doesn't try to intervene or contradict.


    Obama has denied reports that talks with Iran have been timetabled, but he adds: "There is a deal to be had."


    Obama is weak abroad, says Romney - a charge that Obama immediately denies.


    "When I came into office, the world was divided. Iran was resurgent," Obama says. But Romney retorts: "We are four years closer to a nuclear Iran."

    2158: Kim Ghattas BBC state department correspondent

    Important to remember that while in the US, Obama may score points when he gloats that under his administration Iran currency has plunged and oil production is lowest it's been in since Iraq-Iran war, there are dire, real life consequences for everyday Iranians. There is often a disconnect between what's good for America and what's good for people in countries who are on America's bad side, including Iranians who might be opposed to their leaders.


    Romney is standing by his "apology tour" comments. But Obama hits back - telling Romney he didn't take donors on his foreign trips or attend fundraisers abroad. That's a reference to the candidate's trip to Europe and Israel over the summer.


    Romney deflects a question on what he would do if he got a call from Israel saying their bombers were en route to Iran. The Republican says he wouldn't be finding out about such a mission at the last minute.

    Wilson Bernard, Canada

    emails: Clearly, Romney is grasping at straws. His focus on being extraordinarily capable of charting the course of the US economy is laughable. Running a business is definitely not a valid analogy for managing a complex economy on the world stage.


    tweets: My Twitter feed quickly insists Obama's winning - I'm not convinced. #PMTdebate

    Dina Demrdash, BBC Arabic

    Romney says the US needs to put more pressure on Tehran and show no "weakness". But he does not state how he sees the way to that.

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    #LynnDebate. Clear "foreign policy" = Middle East. Has anyone said "China" or "Europe" yet ? @BBCNewsUS


    Onto the next topic: America's longest war. Afghanistan.


    The question - what do you do if the 2014 deadline arrives and it is obvious the Afghans are unable to handle their own security? Romney says the withdrawal is on track, and seems assured that handover will happen on schedule. But, he says, Pakistan is important and must not be forgotten.


    Pakistan as a failed state would be an "extraordinary danger" to Afghanistan and the US, says Romney. He would help Pakistan move in the "right direction".


    The BBC's Juan Carlos PĂ©rez Salazar in Mexico City says: "This debate has raised more expectations in Mexico than the two previous ones because it is about foreign policy. But so far, not a single mention about Mexico.


    Obama recaps his policy on Afghanistan, saying the US had forgotten why it went to war and that he oversaw a strategy re-focus there. The president says there is a need to pull out of Afghanistan responsibly, but the US needs to do some nation-building at home.


    Question to Romney: What is your position on the use of drones? The former governor says he supports it "entirely", indicating that he would continue their use, if elected.

    2214: Gary Duffy, BBC Brasil

    New York bureau chief for Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, Raul Juste Lores, says Romney mentioned Latin America "again in a very positive way, in order to boost trade with the region". Lores adds that Obama just "ignores the region".


    The BBC's Paul Adams tweets: Afghanistan discussion utterly bloodless so far. Zingers suddenly seem a distant memory. @BBCNewsUS #LynnDebate


    Obama says terrorist networks will continue to be the greatest national security threat to the US. But he quickly pivots to China, calling the Asian power an "adversary" and "potential partner".

    2216: Richard Hood, Australia

    emails: Romney getting a bit caught out here - a lot more hesitant. He is pledging billions towards saving everything but gives no indication of where it is coming from.


    "Romney criticised me for being too tough" on China, Obama adds.

    The BBC's Katty Kay, Washington

    tweets: Romney sounds closer to Obama than Bush #debate - quite different from his VMI speech.


    Romney says he thinks the greatest threat facing the world is a nuclear Iran.


    Romney now talking tough on China - a currency manipulator, he says. They should play by the rules.

    2219: Kim Ghattas BBC State department correspondent

    How confusing. Romney basically endorsed plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, which administration following. Contradicts earlier comments from his running mate, Paul Ryan. Romney is clearly worried about the criticism that he can sound like a warmonger.

    2221: Luis Barrucho, BBC Brasil

    Brazilian political correspondent Alon Feuerwerker observes: "No matter who gets elected, US foreign policy will be the same. Just like the old days"

    2221: @BobKoss

    tweets: Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all referenced by O in one breath. Electoral strategy? #LynnDebate

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    tweets: #LynnDebate. Finally talking about China. Nearly all about trade. Romney says China doesn't want a trade war. @BBCNewsUS


    I have never said I would liquidate the car industry, says Romney.


    Romney calls himself a "son of Detroit", adding that suggestions he would destroy the auto industry are the "height of silliness".


    tweets: Disappointed Romney didn't challenge on Libya, but Romney is still winning. BHO looks desperate trying to goad Romney. #LynnDebate #debates


    But the president accuses him of trying to "airbrush history", and argues that Romney's economic plan will not make the US more competitive.

    2228: Dina Demrdash, BBC Arabic

    Just four years ago, Obama's take was building bridges of understanding with the Arab and Muslim world. This election, he is trying to reinstate he can do just that, while he remains "commander-in-chief". Two things which seem incompatible with each other.


    Romney takes it back to the economy and the over-reach of the federal government. "I love teachers," he says. The moderator adds: "We all love teachers." Cue laughs.

    Presidential candidates on stage at televised debate in Boca Raton, Florida 22 October 2012

    The audience was keeping very quiet throughout the debate - until some laughs right at the end.

    2231: Mathias Aspelin, Finland

    emails: As a European Fulbright scholar who has studied and lived in the US for more than seven years, I wish the debate would look more closely at the positive aspects of international exchange and co-operation. That's what sets Obama apart - especially considering his administration's starting point in 2009.


    Obama goes first with his closing statement. It's a wrap-up of his main domestic policies - reviving manufacturing jobs, investing in infrastructure - but the president pledges to care for veterans and preserve the military. He ends by saying he will fight every day for citizens and their families.

    2232: @JT_Piotrowski

    tweets: I wonder how many people switched their votes tonight? I'd wager not enough to change the election. #lynndebate


    Romney gets the last word. He promises to secure the future for Americans, get incomes growing and put the US on track for a balanced budget. He promises to work across the aisle and reach out to Democrats.


    And that's the end of the debate - the families join the two candidates on stage. Hugs all round.

    2235: The BBC's Ian Pannell

    tweets: #LynnDebate only passion is when candidates stray (repeatedly) onto domestic policy. Bob S calls it "vigorous" - it wasn't.


    Obama is chatting with one of Romney's grand-children, with First Lady Michelle Obama at his side. A much friendlier scene than at the end of the last debate.


    With the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing, Professor Xie Tao says Romney's comments on China are far softer than his previous statements, and that Beijing will be reassured by them. It implies that if Romney comes to office there will be disputes over trade but no fundamental change in the relationship.


    The seats are still warm on the debate stage and political commentators of all stripes are already in the spin room, cheering their man's performance. Joe Trippi on Fox News notes that Romney chose to "hug" Obama policies, not disagreeing with him strongly.


    Speaking after the debate, the BBC's Katty Kay says voters who are undecided or are not very familiar with Mitt Romney will probably come away thinking he did just fine tonight.


    Meanwhile, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, told CNN in the spin room that the president came across as a strong commander-in-chief, while Romney's policies were "reckless and wrong". His approach to the economy would be "disastrous".

    2252: @stephenmengland

    tweets: Good closing speech, but #Romney missed so many opportunities tonight. At this point I'd call the final debate a draw. #tcot #debate


    CNN's Jim Acosta spoke to key Romney surrogate, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who says it was a "great night" for Mitt Romney.


    The president and First Lady mingled with the Romney clan after the debate - the friendliest scene after a presidential debate so far.

    President Obama with Republican challenger Mitt Romney and members of his family in Boca Raton, Florida 22 October 2012
    2259: BBC's Simon Wilson, Washington bureau chief

    The American system comes in for a lot of criticism for the length of the presidential campaign and the influence of money and interest groups. But it is also a real test of a candidate's stamina and his or her ability to deal with a series of crises and tests of character. Just as Barack Obama did in 2008, Mitt Romney has matured through a bruising primary campaign and a long and sometimes difficult political summer into a very serious candidate with a credible chance of winning.


    CBS News is out with its instant poll of the presidential debate, which suggests 53% said Obama won the debate, 23% thought Romney, while 24% called it a tie.

    2307: Pavel Fedenko, BBC Russian Service

    Oleg Kozlovsky, opposition activist, currently in the US (translation) tweets: So the Americans don't have a plan to conquer and dismember Russia. It's a lot worse than that. They are simply indifferent to us.


    As the data starts to flow in, Twitter says it lit up with 6.5 million tweets over the course of the debate.


    Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweets this picture of Ann Romney hanging onto her husband, who might have been reaching out a little too enthusiastically to voters after the debate

    Ann and Mitt Romney on stage in Boca Raton, Florida 22 October 2012

    Former presidential candidate John Kerry is out there on the floor of the press centre. Speaking to MSNBC, he says Romney would take the country back to the Bush era, and accuses Republicans of criticising the president's policy on regime change in Libya.

    2318: Paul Adams BBC News, Florida

    It's highly unlikely the watching public will have learned anything very new or startling about the candidates, or that this final debate will have changed the dynamic of a race that now has just two weeks to run.

    2323: BBC's Arturo Wallace, Colombia

    says: It was never going to be an audience success in Colombia, but those who tuned in to watch President Obama and Governor Romney discuss foreign policy were left disappointed after the whole of Latin America only got a passing mention (from Mr Romney) in the whole debate.


    A CNN poll on who won the debate suggests 48% were for Obama, while 40% said Romney.


    And with the pundits debating who won the debate, it's time for us to wrap up our live coverage. Who has the momentum as the campaign enters the final furlong? We'll find out soon enough. Thanks for being with us.


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