WASHINGTON-- The Oct. 3 presidential debate, the first between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, provided a bump in the polls for the GOP challenger. The second debate, last Tuesday, was largely a wash, at least according to initial polling.
Now comes the third and final debate, Oct. 22, in the battleground state of Florida, just 15 days before Election Day. For the president and Romney, the stakes could not be higher.
Here are some questions and answers about what to expect in the pivotal matchup:
Q. How will the last debate differ from the previous two?
A. These are the campaigns' closing arguments and the last time the two men are likely to meet until after the Nov. 6 election. The 90-minute format will be similar to the first debate in Denver, but the subjects chosen by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer this time will be limited to foreign policy.
The Commission on Presidential Debates said that the six segments will cover "the changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism;" America's role in the world; "Red Lines: Israel and Iran;" "Our Longest War- Afghanistan and Pakistan;" and the rise of China and "tomorrow's world."
The hot spots of Libya, Afghanistan, Iran, China and Israel are likely to dominate both the news of the day and questions at the debate. Since the policy positions of the two candidates are more similar than campaign rhetoric portrays them, experts say listen for nuance in what they say.
Q. Where can I watch the debate on television?
A. The debate from Lynn University in Boca Raton can be seen live at 9 p.m. EDT on all the major networks and cable news channels, including C-Span and PBS and on wptv.com.
Q. Is it significant that the debate is being held in a crucial swing state for both candidates?
A. The debate venue "is always significant" because the state's media give a lot more attention to it when it's also a local story, said Lynn University American Studies professor Robert P. Watson.
Watson, who briefly ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2005, has designed a curriculum for Palm Beach County's public schools centering on the debate, and has organized mock debates on campus, stimulating interest and news media attention.
Florida is the fourth largest state but by far the largest swing state, since Texas, California and New York are not in play this year, Watson said.
"Of course, the road to the White House runs through Florida," Watson added, noting that the winner of the state has gone on to be president every time since 1960 except when Bill Clinton lost Florida in 1992. "We have more swing independent voters than Wyoming has people," Watson said.
Q. Is Romney, who visited the Olympics in London, then Israel and Poland in a public relations disaster this summer, perceived to be something of an underdog on issues of foreign policy in a debate against a sitting president prosecuting a war?
A. Let's put it this way: When the two men met at the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York City last Thursday, Obama drew laughter and applause with these lines: "Some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. And I have to say, I'm impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem."
Q. Have there been memorable presidential debates limited to foreign policy?
A. In 2004, after the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry met in Miami and clashed on the war in Iraq. Kerry asserted that the U.S. failed to construct a "grand coalition" before going to war, saying only Great Britain and Australia contributed sizable numbers of troops in the initial invasion.
"Actually, he forgot Poland," Bush interjected, which critics said tended to underline, rather than diminish, Kerry's critique. Bush said the coalition included 30 nations, though their contributions were small.
Q. Have foreign policy debate gaffes had significant impacts on November results?
A. Some argue that incumbent President Gerald Ford's statement during a live 1976 debate from San Francisco -- that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration" -- was such a monumental blunder that it made voters wonder about his grasp of world events. While some say it might have contributed to his defeat, high unemployment, high inflation and Ford's pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, were probably greater factors.
Another memorable foreign policy exchange occurred just a week before Election Day in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and the incumbent, Jimmy Carter met in their only televised debate. The two clashed over the then-ongoing Iranian hostage crisis, military spending and strategic nuclear weapons reductions treaties.
But when Carter said he'd asked his 12-year-old daughter,
Amy, "what the most important issue was," and she told him "control of nuclear arms," it appeared he was seeking advice from the child, and he was widely ridiculed as a result.
Q. What do some foreign-policy academics think the candidates should be asked Monday night?
A. Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a blogger at ForeignPolicy.com, writes that he assumes both candidates will say that U.S. foreign aid to the Middle East should be conditioned on increased democratization and respect for human rights.
He wants to know: "How exactly would this policy apply to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf sheikdoms (including Bahrain, host of the U.S. Fifth Fleet) and Israel's role in the occupied territories?"
Q. What foreign-policy issues would Lynn College students like the candidates to speak to?
A. Professor Watson noted that Lynn is one of the most "internationalized" college campuses in America, with students from more than 80 countries. Two Lynn professors and four students working to rebuild a school in Haiti were killed in the earthquake in 2010, and a scholarship is reserved for a student from Haiti each year.
"So we'd like to ask why Haiti has sort of dropped off the radar map and what the candidates intend to do about it," Watson said. They're also interested in normalizing relations with nearby Cuba and finding a comprehensive approach to immigration, he said.
Q. Will there be any more presidential debates?
A. Only between third-party candidates. The Green Party's Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson will hold their second debate on Oct. 23.
(Contact Bartholomew Sullivan of Scripps Howard News Service at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)