With only 15 days left until election day, students crowded into the Annenberg East Lobby to watch President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have a final showdown in the live presidential debate Monday night at an event hosted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and sponsored by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
The debate, broadcasted live from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was moderated by CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.
With most polls showing the two presidential candidates in a close race for the White House, this debate was one of the last opportunities for both candidates to sway voters before they head to the voting booths in two short weeks. Following last week’s combative dialogue between the two presidential candidates, voters anxiously awaited to see if the momentum would carry to Florida.
The opening question of the debate focused on the attack of the American consulate in Libya. According to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, America needs to have a strategic plan to combat this type of extremism.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said. “We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy.”
The president fired back against Romney’s allegations against his foreign policy.
“I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy,” Obama said. “But every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite that fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Both candidates agreed on the importance of investing in our relationships with our allies in the Middle East, namely Israel.
“Everything we’re doing, we are doing with our partners in the region, including Israel.” Obama said.
Though Romney agreed that the United States must unite with its allies, he highlighted the importance of emphasizing American leadership in the region.
“Seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us,” Romney said. “We should be playing the leadership role there.”
Romney pivoted the discussion from foreign policy to the economy, highlighting the importance of American strength at home in order to be strong overseas.
“For us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong,” Romney said. “And that requires for us to have a strong economy at home.”
President Obama countered Romney’s allegation, instead highlighting America’s increased strength since he has taken office.
“America remains the one indispensable nation,” Obama said. “And the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office.”
Obama turned the conversation to education, highlighting the importance of investing in education to strengthen America and criticizing the governor’s lack of support for increased funding.
“The kinds of budget proposals that you’ve put forward, when we don’t ask either you or me to pay a dime more in terms of reducing the deficit, but instead we slash support for eduction, that’s undermining our long-term competitiveness,” Obama said.
In closing, both candidates emphasized the choice voters will face in the election.
“I’ve got a different vision for America. I want to build on our strengths,” Obama said.
Romney recognized that the election is a choice too, except he focused on the notion of being a leader.
“We need strong leadership,” Romney said. “I’d like to be that leader, with your support.”
The panel, which was co-moderated by Matt Rodriguez, the former Western States regional director for the Obama for America campaign in 2008, and Jonathan Wilcox, a former speechwriter for then-California Gov. Pete Wilson, posed questions to the audience about the debate. By a show of hands, a slight majority of the audience appeared to believe Obama won the final debate.
Jared Ginsburg, a member of USC College Republicans, noted that the president’s strategy was on the offensive.
“Romney was more conciliatory,” Ginsburg said. “Obama was clearly on the attack tonight.”
Sydney Fishman, a member of USC College Democrats, thought there was no clear winner as there were in the two previous debates.
“I personally don’t feel like there was a really clear winner in this debate like there was in the other two,” Fishman said. “I don’t see that much of a change in the polls happening.”
Looking forward, the panelists agreed that the remainder of the election will continue to be a close race.
“I think that Ohio is going to be a very decisive factor,” Ginsburg said. “Governor Romney certainly performed really well tonight, so I think this will remain dangerously close during the next 14 days.”