A Debate About Foreign Policy in an Election About Economy

PHOTO: President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
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There are 15 days and one presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney and the general election.

While both candidates acknowledge the outcome of the election depends on no more than two dozen swing states, the debate tonight - the third of the campaign season - provides the final opportunity for the candidates to make their case to a national TV audience. Both Obama and Romney spent the weekend behind closed doors preparing.

Two previous debates – one which President Obama indisputably lost with an uninspired performance and one where he redeemed himself in the eyes of Democratic stalwarts – have equalized into the same dead heat the campaigns and political experts have long expected. An NBC / Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday had the race tied at 47 percent support for each candidate. President Obama has an edge among women, according to a Wall Street Journal / NBC poll released Sunday. Mitt Romney has the edge among men.

Tune in to ABC News.com tonight at 8 p.m. ET for anchored coverage of the final presidential debate, held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

On paper, President Obama should hold an edge in a debate focused on foreign policy. He can boast of giving the order for American Special Forces to carry out the operation in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. He brought combat troops out of Iraq, ending the war that had played such a pivotal role in the two previous presidential elections. President Obama surged troops into Afghanistan, where as a candidate in 2008 he said more focus should have been in the first place during the years after 9/11. But he has set a timetable for withdrawing American troops from that country. While Romney has strongly criticized the timetable for being public, he has not made Afghanistan a main topic on the campaign trail and aides have said he would try to stick to a similar schedule for withdrawing American troops.

Read more about the candidates on Afghanistan.

Indeed, while 46 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy and 52 percent disapprove, according to the Wall Street Journal / NBC poll released Sunday, 49 percent approve of his foreign policy and fewer, 46 percent, disapprove.

But with a stubbornly difficult economy, this is not an election that anyone thought would hinge on foreign affairs. That is why Republicans chose a former one term governor who has made his main pitch his career as a businessman.

When Romney embarked on a mid-campaign overseas trip this summer, he was attacked by the British press over comments he made about security for the Olympics. A trip that was supposed to showcase Romney's own experience heading the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 instead included the London mayor leading tens of thousands in a chant against him.

Democrats today sought to recall those headlines in framing the debate on talk shows Sunday.

"People want to know that they have a strong, steady hand in the Oval Office. They don't want someone who's reckless and who's been consistently wrong on foreign policy issues as Gov. Romney has," said David Axelrod, a top Obama campaign adviser, on "Meet the Press." "We all remember his 'Dukes of Hazzard' tour of international destinations over the summer where he not only roiled countries that are not as friendly to us but our best ally, Britain. He was wrong on Libya. He was wrong on Iraq."

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