Debate Day, Round III: Showdown In The Sunshine State (The Note)

David Goldman/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • ALL TIED UP HEADING INTO TONIGHT: On "Good Morning America," ABC's Jake Tapper reports from Boca Raton, Fla., that conflicting national polls reflect a close race as President Obama and Mitt Romney head into their final face-off tonight. "The only thing definitive is confusion about how this will end," Tapper reports, with the candidates expected to spar tonight over Iran talks and the Benghazi attack. WATCH:
  • WHAT ROLE WILL IRAN PLAY? Also on "Good Morning America," ABC's Martha Raddatz previewed the discussion of Iran talks in tonight's debate: "There were a lot of denials over the weekend, but you noticed the New York Times did not take that story out of the paper. There's clearly something going on diplomatically, and anything that's going on diplomatically right now can probably help the president. It also leaves you a very simple question to Mitt Romney: If there was a possibility for face-to-face negotiations, one on one, would you do that or risk another war?" WATCH:
  • NEW POLL: OBAMA'S LEAD SLIPPING IN OHIO. A new poll by CBS News and Quinnipiac University shows that President Obama leads Mitt Romney 50 percent to 45 percent in the Buckeye State. CBS notes: "A gender gap persists: President Obama still has a double-digit advantage among women, 55 to 40 percent (down from a 60 to 35 percent lead in the September poll), while Romney leads with men." And Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute writes: "The good news for Gov. Romney is that he has sliced President Obama's lead in Ohio in half in the last month. The bad news for Romney, and the good news for Obama, is that no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio and the challenger is running out of time to make up the remaining difference."
  • TUNE IN TODAY: Watch today for livestreaming coverage of the final 2012 presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon hosted by ABC's Amy Walter and Dan Harris, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.
  • COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION DAY: There are 15 days to go until Nov. 6, 2012. Here are the ABC News battleground state rankings:


DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -Today's third and final debate is the last, best opportunity for voters to see how these two men look in the role of Commander-in-Chief.

ABC News Political Director Amy Walter notes that the bickering and sniping that dominated the second debate would look out of place in this decidedly more sober setting where the focus will be on foreign policy.

While an incumbent would normally enjoy a tremendous advantage on the topic of foreign affairs, President Obama has only the slimmest lead over Mitt Romney on these issues, according to recent polls.

On the question of who would make a better Commander in Chief, yesterday's NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that Obama had just a three point lead - down from 8 points in September. On how the president is doing in handling foreign affairs, just 49 percent give him good marks, while 46 percent disapprove of the job he's doing.

The bigger problem for Obama in both the NBC News-Wall Street Journal and the Politico Battleground poll is that he is losing the economic argument. On the key question of which candidate would do a better job on "jobs and unemployment" Romney is ahead by seven points (46 percent to 39 percent) in NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey. In the Battleground poll, Romney is seen as better able to handle the economy by a 51-45 percent margin.

But, the national polls only tell half the story. In fact, both sides contend that they are doing very little - if any - national polling and are focused instead on state polling. And, there are signs that while the race is tightening in key swing states, Obama continues to lead Romney. A new Quinnipiac University-CBS News poll in Ohio shows Obama holding onto a smaller, but still significant lead - 50 to 45 percent.

It is numbers like these that what will only increase chatter about the possibility of a popular vote-electoral vote split, with Romney winning the popular vote but Obama winning the electoral vote and, of course, a second term.

Another reason Team Obama should be worried: Republican enthusiasm continues to outpace that of Democrats. That's why Obama and Biden are spending a lot more time on the trail bashing Romney. They are hoping that if they can't get their base to the polls on "hope and change" at least "fear and loathing" might do the trick.


The Note's virtual political roundtable:

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Before we declare the foreign-policy debate for the commander-in-chief, recall how much the president and his challenger have swapped roles these past few weeks. Not just front-runner's status, which is still up for grabs amid a mountain of conflicting stats and factoids in the polls. In the period since the conventions, we've seen President Obama gain strength on the economy, amid signs of a strengthening jobs market. Foreign policy, meanwhile, has become a fresh liability for the incumbent. Between Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, China, Russia, and planned defense cuts, there's an overflow in issues the president would just as soon not talk about.

TUNE IN TODAY: ABC NEWS' COVERAGE OF THE DEBATE. ABC News will provide comprehensive coverage of tonight's presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.:

ON TV: Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos will anchor special coverage of the debate from ABC News Election Headquarters in New York from 9:00-11:00 p.m., ET tonight. Sawyer and Stephanopoulos will be joined by members of ABC's political team including: Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper; ABC "World News" weekend anchor David Muir, who covers the Romney campaign; Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl reporting live from ABC's Fact or Fiction Desk; and ABC News political analysts.

ONLINE: ABC News Digital will provide live debate coverage anchored by ABC News Political Director Amy Walter and "Good Morning America" Weekend Anchor Dan Harris from 8:00-11:30 p.m., ET. The coverage will be live-streamed across several platforms including, Yahoo!, Yahoo! News,, ABC News' iPad & iPhone apps, as well as on ABC News affiliate websites. ABC News Digital coverage will also serve as the official provider of the debates on YouTube's Elections Hub. ABC News Digital will have a one-hour pre-show at 8:00 p.m., ET and a one hour post-show, as well as a 30-minute noon show.

ON THE RADIO: ABC News Radio will provide live coverage of tonight's debate from 9:00-11:00 p.m., ET including 30 minutes of post-debate analysis. ABC News Radio Correspondent Aaron Katersky will anchor ABC News Radio's coverage from each debate site. He will be joined by ABC News Radio White House Correspondent Ann Compton, ABC News Radio correspondents Vic Ratner, Steven Portnoy and Alex Stone. In addition, Katersky will anchor a one-hour preview before the debate from 8:00-9:00 p.m., ET.

ABC/YAHOO! VIDEO: WHAT ROMNEY NEEDS TO DO TONIGHT. ABC's Jake Tapper previews the final presidential debate along with Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin, in the latest installment of "Political Punch." Benghazi will lead the night. "By alleging, suggesting that the Obama administration had misled the public on Benghazi, now the president has regained the moral authority on this issue, and so what the Romney campaign will have to do at tonight's debate is focus on the fact that it was incompetence and that the administration did make intelligence mistakes and security mistakes in the lead-up to the attack and then communication and messaging mistakes in the follow-up after the attack," Rogin says. WATCH:


-FROM TEAM OBAMA: AMERICA IS STRONGER, SAFER. Obama for America e-mails: "Tonight, Americans will hear how President Obama's leadership has made America stronger, safer and more secure than we were four years ago. In stark contrast, Romney has nothing to offer but more bluster, a record of blunders and a commitment to endless war-he simply lacks the sound judgment necessary to serve as Commander-in-Chief."

-FROM TEAM ROMNEY: AMERICA HAS BEEN WEAKENED. The Romney campaign e-mails a statement from spokeswoman Andrea Saul: "At the 2008 presidential debates, Candidate Obama promised to implement a foreign policy that would protect our interests and allies abroad. But four years later, America stands weakened around the world, with our safety threatened, our allies increasingly isolated, and hostile nations emboldened. Americans simply can't afford another four years like the last four years. As president, Mitt Romney will deliver where President Obama has failed by crafting a foreign policy that restores America's strength and increases our nation's security abroad."

NOTED: DEBATES BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE KING OF BEERS. Anhueser-Busch InBev is believed to be the largest sponsor of presidential debates, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Tim Logan reports: "Anheuser-Busch InBev plays a prominent role in putting on the presidential debates, and has for 20 years. It's a major corporate sponsor-widely believed to be the largest, though donation figures are not made public-of the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit entity that runs these quadrennial set-to's. … 'We really believe the debates are a critical part of the political process,' said A-B InBev spokeswoman Christine Czernejewski. 'They provide voters with a lot of information about the candidates, and we're really proud to be a part of it.'"


RAHM EMANUEL: ECONOMY FOREMOST IN FOREIGN-POLICY DEBATE. Chicago Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "[W]hile you say we're going to turn to foreign policy-the most important part of that foreign policy debate tomorrow will be, because I think the most important thing we can do as a country on our foreign policy is strengthen our economy here at home. It is our leadership abroad that comes from a strong economy. And the economic argument of who's going to make sure that this country is investing in itself after a decade of fighting wars overseas …"

RAHM: ISSA 'RECKLESS' FOR RELEASING LIBYA DOCUMENTS. "I have also worked in Congress where you have an oversight responsibility. And with that oversight responsibility comes responsibility," Emanuel said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "And what Darrell Issa did by releasing names in that entire document of individuals who are working with America, put people at risk in Libya, and people around the world will now know that you're at risk if you cooperate with the United States. That office, that chairmanship of that committee comes with responsibility. And you cannot act reckless with it."

MARCO RUBIO: FLORIDA ECONOMY GROWING BECAUSE OF STATE POLICIES. When asked about Florida's growing economy-and whether Gov. Rick Scott is making President Obama's case there by trumpeting it-Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "It's growing in Florida because of these measures that have been taken in Tallahassee by our state government. Imagine if it had a willing partner, imagine if we had a tax code that was predictable, stable, and affordable? Imagine if the federal government said, we're going to bring these runaway regulations under control? Imagine if Obamacare was repealed? You would have real, you would have real dynamic growth on top of what's already happening in the state, not just in Florida but other states, because of what these governors and those legislators have put in place."


with Chris Good ( @c_good)

NEW YORK TIMES REPORTS IRAN HAS AGREED TO NUCLEAR TALKS. The New York Times published a splashy report that "The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran. Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating."

… DENIALS FOLLOW. NYT follows up on Sunday: "On Saturday, the White House denied that a final agreement on direct talks had been reached, while saying that it remained open to such contacts. On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report."

CHINA IS WATCHING. ABC's Gloria Rivera reports: Today in China President Obama's name is the second hottest topic trending on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter. The phase 'American debate' comes in at number ten. In over 15,000 tweets mentioning 'Obama' alone, many Chinese are commenting on just how prominently 'China-bashing' has figured into campaign rhetoric on the trail and in debates. In an unusual move Xinhua, China's state run news agency, directly commented on the race last week by saying, "The fierce presidential race seems to have morphed into a contest in which the one who plays tougher on China has better chances to win."

NEW OBAMA AD: A DECADE OF WAR. A new Obama for America TV ad highlights withdrawal from Iraq and his plan to end the war in Afghanistan. A narrator says: "A decade of war. That cost us dearly. … President Obama ended the Iraq war. Mitt Romney would have left thirty thousand troops there, and called bringing them home 'tragic.' Obama's brought thirty thousand soldiers back from Afghanistan. And has a responsible plan to end the war. Romney calls it Obama's 'biggest mistake.' It's time to stop fighting over there and start rebuilding over here." WATCH:

INTELLIGENCE SHOWS NO PLANNING FOR BENGHAZI ATTACK. ABC's Luis Martinez reports: The latest intelligence assessment of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi indicates there was little if any pre-planning for it and that it was in part an opportunistic response to the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. … "Right now, there isn't any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance," said a U.S. intelligence official. "The bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo." But the official added that "no one is ruling out that some of the attackers may have aspired to attack the U.S. in Benghazi."

JOHN KERRY DEBATE MEMO: ROMNEY INEXPERIENCED, FAILS 'COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF TEST.' The Obama campaign e-mails a memo from Sen. John Kerry, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman who has played Mitt Romney during President Obama's debate prep. Kerry writes: Romney "offers nothing but endless bluster and a record of dangerous blunders … Romney has outlined fewer specific policies for how he would lead on national security issues than any presidential candidate in my memory. … he's at the top of the most inexperienced foreign policy ticket to run for president and vice president in decades. … Romney has failed to put forth any sort of policy whatsoever to go after those who continue to plot and train to kill Americans … Mitt Romney has failed to say how he would end the longest war in America's history and bring our troops home … Mitt Romney's bluster on getting tough on China has no credibility, and his ideas have been widely criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike …"

AXELROD PRAISES KERRY AS DEBATE PARTNER. After President Obama reminded Mitt Romney during last week's debate of his erstwhile opposition to coal power, The Boston Globe's Glen Johnson writes: "Chalk up one victory for Kerry's role as Romney's stand-in during the president's debate preparation sessions. Credit all those hours he's spent reading Romney's news clippings, speeches, and interview transcripts with a very public payoff for the candidate he is serving. … 'Kerry has been superb,' Axelrod added. "He's done his homework and channeled the Romney rhetoric and attacks really well. And he brings to it the experience of someone who has actually been on that stage.'"

SEVEN NEWSPAPERS ENDORSE OBAMA. On Sunday, the L.A. Times plus six swing-state papers endorsed President Obama, ABC's Devin Dwyer notes. They are: the Las Vegas Sun, the Arizona Daily STar, the Durango Herald (Colorado), the Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina), and the Santa Fe New Mexican.

BREAKING FOR BEACH FOOTBALL, ROMNEY IGNORES QUESTIONS. Mitt Romney took a rare break from debate prep to visit a staff vs. press beach football game, ABC's Emily Friedman reports from Delray Beach, Fla.: "Let's see, look at the captain," said Romney, walking onto the beach across the street from the Delray Beach, Florida hotel where he's spent time preparing for Monday evening's debate. Romney and his wife Ann spent the morning at church, but shortly after returning the Republican nominee opted to pop by the game. As he stood and watched the first play, reporters peppered him with questions. Asked if he would be open to one-on-one talks with Iran, a reference to the White House shooting down a story yesterday in the New York Times that the administration had agreed to the talks, an aide quickly jumped in, "Guys this is a football game, come on."

ANN ROMNEY: 7 FANTASY PTS. ABC's Michael Falcone reports that Ann Romney threw a TD pass on the beach: Although Romney didn't take part in the game, Ann Romney joined in not long after he left. She donned a red Romney campaign t-shirt (the same kind staff were wearing), fastened a belt of football flags around her waist, and immediately subbed in at QB. "You guys, we're going to be a little more aggressive this time," she said before throwing a successful touchdown pass. She left the game on that high note, saying, "I'm going to get back to my walk."

RYAN: OBAMA OFFERS 'BLAME AND FRUSTRATION.' ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports from Sioux City, Iowa: "You see, the man we heard four years ago offering hope and change is the very kind of candidate he was then criticizing," Ryan said on the deck of a restaurant, Bev's on the River here. "He has become what he criticized. He's not offering hope and change, he's offering attack and blame and frustration."

SANDRA FLUKE CAMPAIGNS FOR EARLY VOTING IN NEVADA. The Reno Gazette Journal reports: Sandra Fluke, the woman at the center of a media firestorm earlier this year after Rush Limbaugh called her a 'slut,' spoke Saturday in front of about 10 people at the Sak 'N Save in north Reno. … 'I'm trying to do everything I can for an election that I feel is very important. I have a unique opportunity for how I get to do that,' said Fluke, who is coming off recent campaign trips to Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida as a surrogate for Democratic President Barack Obama's re-election campaign."

ROMNEY'S LAST FUNDRAISER. ABC's Emily Friedman reported from Palm Beach, Fla. on Saturday: After more than a year of attending finance events across the country, from California to Texas to New York, tonight marks Mitt Romney's final campaign fundraiser, an aide confirmed to ABC News. The final event comes on the same day that the candidate's FEC filings were made public for October, showing that Romney raised $77.7 million in September and has more than $63 million in cash on hand. To date, Romney has raised more than $361 million for his campaign compared with the President's $567 million, according to Bloomberg News. Romney attended the final fundraiser at two different homes in the tony Palm Beach area, where driveways are often too long to spot the home's front doors, and where waterfront properties are the norm.

OBAMA TO APPEAR ON LENO WEDNESDAY. NBC has announced that President Obama will make his third appearance on "The Tonight Show" Wednesday as president and his fifth appearance overall, ABC's Devin Dwyer reports. Although the president has not appeared on the show this year, Michelle Obama sat down with Jay Leno twice this year, most recently in August.

BIDEN: CRYING BABY KNOWS WHAT ROMNEY PRESIDENCY WOULD BRING. ABC's Arlette Saenz reported from St. Augustine, Fla. on Saturday: What happens when a baby starts crying when Vice President Joe Biden is speaking at an event? Well the vice president finds a way to work that baby into his speech … "They eliminate help for middle-class families who want to send their kids to college like that beautiful baby over there," Biden said as a baby cried at Ketterlinus Gymnasium Saturday. "I don't blame her for crying! I don't blame that baby for crying! That baby, that baby, that baby knows what's in store for him or her if Romney wins! I'm glad someone understands my speech!"

RYAN TELLS IOWA VOTERS: VICTORY 'WITHIN OUR GRASP.' ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports from Council Bluffs, Iowa: Outside of a Bass Pro Shop on his first campaign swing in western Iowa, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told voters victory "is within our grasp." "We can do this," Ryan said, on a perfectly sunny day. "We can get this country back on the right track. Let's look back at this moment as when we did it. We need your help."


-AMERICAN BRIDGE VIDEO HITS ROMNEY ON RYAN BUDGET'S EMBASSY CUTS. The Democratic research super PAC American Bridge released a new web video attacking Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan over cuts to the State Department's embassy budget in Ryan's plan. WATCH:

-ROMNEY WEB VIDEO: 'CLEAR CHOICE FOR COLORADO.' Mitt Romney's campaign has gotten back to a strategy it used earlier in the campaign: releasing a video that features a small business owner talking about the Obama economy. In this one, Sakata Farms owner Bob Sakata says, "[W]ith all these uncertainties, we as entrepreneurs cannot make a long-range plan of investments moving forward. But with Mr. Romney's philosophy I think that will immediately change, that we would have confidence in leadership." WATCH:


@mviser : On a flight to Florida with John McCain, who carried own bags. Makin me wonder: which of these candidates will be doing the same in 4 years?

@billburton716 : Worth remembering that Boca - site of the final debate Monday - is also where Romney uttered his comments denigrating 47% of Americans.

@BDayspring : Hard Hitting ad from @YGNETWORK ties Mark Critz to Obama in #PA12 using "cling to guns/religion" comments. #TCOT

@jmartpolitico : Mitt officials tell us OH will be their 1st among equals: "He'll be a lot of places but in OH more than anywhere"

@BobShrum : George McGovern- hero and friend. Right from the start, right in the end. …

@DanielLibit : I can't wait to unfollow so many people, come Nov. 7. But not you, of course. #2012


with ABC's Joanna Suarez

- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off at the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla.

-Vice President Joe Biden will hold campaign events in Canton and Lorain, Ohio.

-Paul Ryan will make stops in Pueblo West and Durango, Colorado. In the evening, he will attend a debate watch party in Grand Junction, Colorado.

-First Lady Michelle Obama will address grassroots supporters in Davie, Fla. Prior to the debate, she will also attend a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla.

-Jill Biden will visit local campaign offices in Wisconsin.

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