“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Mr. Romney said, in the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, as he sought to draw distinctions between himself and Mr. Obama, saying the U.S. must take more leadership to try to push the Muslim world toward moderation.
For his part, the president began by defending his decision-making concerning Libya, where a terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador.
And the president turned his fire on Mr. Romney, questioning what his foreign policy really is.
“Your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map,” Mr. Obama said, adding that just a few months ago, when asked what the biggest international threat was for the U.S., Mr. Romney said it was Russia, not al Qaeda.
Voters have generally given Mr. Obama higher marks on foreign policy, though Mr. Romney does better when the question is narrowed to national security.
The two men entered the debate with polls showing a close race. The Washington Times/Zogby Poll released Sunday showed Mr. Obama leading 50-47 among likely voters, while the Gallup Poll has Mr. Romney leading 51-45.
The Times/Zogby Poll, however, found Mr. Romney’s supporters were substantially more enthusiastic about backing him than Mr. Obama’s supporters were, which signals a volatile race that will likely come down to the size of voter turnout.
Mr. Obama has staunched the bleeding from his disastrous performance in the first debate, but didn’t appear to get a major boost from what polls said was a win for him.
Mr. Romney, however, has clearly benefitted from both debates. His favorability ratings have improved dramatically, and the Real Clear Politics average now shows him above Mr. Obama for the first time in this race in favorability, 50.5 to 50.
With no more debates, the fight now turns to television ads and to personal appearances by the two men, who will spend the final two weeks visiting those states deemed critical to the electoral college math.
Ohio, Virginia and Florida continue to loom as the chief battlegrounds, but Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin are considered within reach of both. Mr Obama is trying to put Arizona and North Carolina in play, while Republicans want to force the president to have to defend Pennsylvania.