Campaign 2012: The Final Showdown

With polls showing a dead heat, we report the key takeaways from the last presidential debate.
3:00 | 10/23/12

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Transcript for Campaign 2012: The Final Showdown
Tonight, the highly anticipated final round as president barack obama, republican challenger mitt romney took the stage to go head to head in the last presidential debate. This is a crucial night, and it could tip the scales in a side-by-side comparison, 15 days left until the election and millions of early ballots already being cast so here's how it all happened in florida tonight. The two men who would be president squared off for the last time in the homestretch of a race that could not be any closer. This time, in boca raton, florida, swing state turf and this time sitting across from one another. You could sense the urgency of the moment. I thought it should have been 5,000 troops. I thought it should have been more troops. And leadership, the real issue in every presidential debate and tonight, president obama launched a direct attack on whether mitt romney is ready to be leader of the free world. Here's one thing I've learned as commander in chief, you've got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies about where you stand. Romney said obama is simply not demonstrating presidential leadership. Attacking me is not talking about how we're going to deal with the challenges that exist in the middle east. Neither one of these candidates ever served in the u.S. Military and that hasn't happened since franklin roosevelt faced thomas e. Dewey in 1944 but in this dangerous and uncertain world they tried to outtough each other all night long. Romney accused the president of undermining american strength by not spending enough on defense. Our navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission, we have under 285. Obama bruskly dismissed him as a clueless neophyte in national society. We have fewer horses bayonets because the nature of our military changed so it's not a game of battleship where we're counting ships but what are our capabilities. Romney's overall point, obama has presided over an era of american weakness that began in its first days in office on what romney calls an apology tour. You said that on occasion america had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, america has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators. Obama's response, romney is a shallow and unserious foreign policy candidate. If we're going to talk about trips that we've taken, when i went to israel as a candidate i didn't take donors, I didn't attend fund-raisers, I went to yad vashem. Country after country, crisis after crisis they slugged out out. Flash point, iran, another war in the middle east. That awful possibility looms over this election. With news breaking over the weekend that the obama administration is seeking one-on-one talks with iran to avoid war, the nuclear standoff dominated part of the debate tonight. The president offered a dramatic contrast. When I came into office, the world was divided. Iran was resurgent. Iran is at its weakest point economically, strategically, militarily than in many year. From the very beginning one of the challenges we've had with iran is that they have looked at this administration and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be. I think they saw weakness. Flash point, iraq, a hugely unpopular war, a strategic blunder. President obama seemed to surprise romney by arguing that he wanted to keep fighting it. And the challenge we have, i know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong. You said why should have gone into iraq despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should still have troops in iraq to this day. Romney struggled to answer. With regards to iraq, you and I agreed, I believe that there should have been a status of forces agreement. Oh, you didn't want a stat us -- no, what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in iraq that would tie us down and that certainly would not help us in the middle east. I'm sorry. You actually -- there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement and I conferred in that and said we should have some number of troops that stayed on. Flash point, osama bin laden and al qaeda. 11 years after the 9/11 attacks, terrorism and how to fight it remains a crucial presidential responsibility in the 21st century. President obama rides high in the polls on this issue for one big reason. Tonight, I can report to the american people and to the world that the united states has conducted an operation that killed osama bin laden, the leader of al qaeda. Tonight, the president practically boasted and slammed romney. When it comes to going after osama bin laden, you said, well, any president would make that call. But when you are a candidate in 2008 as I was and I said, if i got bin laden in our sights, i would take that shot, you said, we shouldn't move heaven and earth to get one man. Mitt romney tried to undermine the president's bin laden triumph with a blunt line. I congratulate him on taking out osama bin laden and going after the leadership in al qaeda, but we can't kill our way out of this mess. We must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism. At the end both men had probably achieved some of what they'd come to do, project strength, demonstrate competency and get the debate out of the way so they can refocus on domestic issues where this election will be decided.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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