President Barack Obama understood it well. From the very beginning, he returned time and time again to his experience as president: the concrete process of governing, the nuanced decisions he has had to make, etc. He used the phrase "commander in chief" often, to good effect. Obama took every opportunity he had to point out opponent's lack of experience, his flip-flopping and his lack of substance. At times, he even took on the role of the underdog, becoming the aggressor and interrupting Romney rather awkwardly.
What saved Obama tonight was not only his strategy around the concept of strength and leadership but also his intellectual energy. Contrary to the inexcusable lethargy of the first debate – and even the slow burn of his second meeting with Romney – Obama was sharp and witty tonight. His bayonets and battleship attack was one of his finest moments of the 2012 campaign. The most powerful moment, however, was Obama's memorable response on Israel and his trips abroad. His reference to Yad Vashem was masterful.
Mitt Romney surprised me. Someone from his inner circle must have pointed out to him how reckless his previous confrontational strategy had become. After all, Romney's hopes now depend on his standing with Latinos, younger voters and, crucially, women. That's why we saw a much more subdued Romney. But just as he overplayed his über-macho routine one week ago, he seemed way too passive tonight. Romney broke the first rule of debating: never, under any circumstance, be of the same opinion with your opponent.
It was rather baffling to listen to Mitt Romney agree with Obama four or five times during the 90 minute debate. Romney even agreed with the moderator at one point (the only thing worse than agreeing with one's political foe is to concur with a journalist). In the end, be it because of a strategic decision or some other, more substantive reason, Romney lost this last battle for the perception of strength. But once again: maybe Romney just wasn't trying to convey strength, but rather a sort of compassionate centrism that could prove appealing to independent voters and -yes- women. It remains to be seen whether he made a mistake by leaving his capacity for anger at home.
Oh, and I was right: Mexico really was the "forgotten country" tonight. It will never cease to amaze me how America's political establishment allots 90 minutes to talk about societies that are 10000 miles away and not a single second to discuss the neighboring country, now entangled in a God-awful mess.
León Krauze is the news anchor for Univision's KMEX 34 in Los Angeles.