DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Mitt Romney appears to be gearing up for what could be another feisty debate and another aggressive performance from President Obama, a top campaign adviser tells CNN.
"I don't think he will come out like a lamb," a senior Romney strategist said.
After his listless showing at the first presidential debate in Denver, Obama adopted a much more confrontational posture during his second face-off with Romney in Hempstead New York, aiming a series of tough rhetorical jabs at the Republican nominee.
The town hall venue allowed the two candidates to physically confront each other on stage. At one point during the New York debate, both men appeared to viewers to be in each other's personal space.
However, with the third and final showdown set for a roundtable discussion on foreign policy with moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS, a senior Romney adviser said the subdued setting may help to tone down some of last week's aggressive body language.
Still, another Romney debate adviser acknowledged the two candidates are "competitive," opening up the possibility of pointed exchanges across the table.
During days of debate preparations in Delray Beach, Florida, a Republican source says the GOP contender's sparring partner, Ohio Senator Rob Portman has tried to get under Romney's skin to prepare him for what could be another rough and tumble round with the president.
The Obama campaign has signaled the president will accuse Romney of seeking "endless war." Romney has advocated a more confrontational posture with Iran to halt that nation's nuclear program. He has also called for a final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 after listening to commanders on the ground.
The Romney campaign has indicated the former Massachusetts governor will aggressively challenge the president's handling of foreign policy. Hours before the debate, the campaign released a web video reminding voters of the president's now infamous comments to former Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, when Obama said he would have "flexibility" after the election to deal with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Bill Burton, who runs the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA, said it's likely the president will stick with his more in-your-face style. "I don't think anybody expects them to tone it down," Burton said.
Obama was described in a recent Frontline documentary as "the first Nobel Peace Prize winner with a kill list."
Hawkish Republicans warned in 2008 that the man who built his campaign on ending the war in Iraq, closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and strengthening civil liberties in the face of Bush-era surveillance procedures would usher in a new era of American weakness abroad.
Instead, the president has fiercely pursued al Qaeda terrorists abroad, with the killing of Osama bin Laden gleaming as the crown jewel of his national security resume.
The administration's emphasis on CIA-operated predator drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan has aggravated liberals who say the strikes cause civilian casualties and are carried out under a dubious legal framework. Obama has authorized six times more than the number green-lighted by George W. Bush, according to author and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen.
The administration has been reluctant to discuss drone strikes, but top intelligence officials have defended the actions as legal, meticulously plotted and designed to avoid innocent casualties.
Voters probably won't go to the polls with visions of unmanned aircraft hovering above the Pakistan wilderness in their heads, but like Obama's embrace of natural gas drilling in the previous debate, it's a reminder that the president has strayed from the liberal base that helped elect him in the first place.
How he handles questions about the secret air war against al Qaeda -- if those questions arise -- are sure to be carefully scrutinized by Democratic activists he needs to turn out on Election Day.
3. The other stuff
Conventional wisdom suggests that a debate about foreign policy would work in Obama's favor.
He is, after all, the guy who got bin Laden. And for most of the year, polls have shown Obama leading Romney on the question of which candidate is more trusted on foreign policy and national security matters.
Indeed, the image of Obama turning to Romney and scolding him for trying to politicize the Benghazi attack stands out as one of the president's strongest moments from the last debate.
But as perceptions harden in the final two weeks of the campaign, it's clear the president would rather talk about women's issues and Romney's "sketchy" tax plan in an effort to recover some breathing room in Ohio, Virginia and a handful of other states where polls show the race tightening.
It won't be easy to bring up