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Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama: Live coverage of the final presidential debate
In their third and final debate, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney found common ground on many foreign policy issues, but often found a way to bring the discussion back to voters' biggest priority: the economy.
Both candidates generally agreed on the need to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran to discourage its nuclear program, and on the timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Romney repeated one of his biggest criticisms of Obama -- that he embarked on a Middle Eastern "apology tour" on behalf of America, while the president bashed Romney repeatedly for his lack of support of the auto bailout and his former firm's investments in companies that outsourced jobs.
By the end of the 90-minute debate, Romney and Obama were turning foreign policy questions into opportunities to repeat their domestic economic platforms, whether it's Romney's desire to cut the nation's debt or Obama's plan to invest further in education and innovation.
See below for a running feed of the debate, as it happened.
Schieffer, in the words of his mother: "Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong."
Romney and Obama share a longer handshake this time, and a few laughs. Families are now on stage, and we've wrapped.
Obama wants to reward American companies for not shipping jobs overseas, wants to reduce deficit by cutting spending and asking the wealthy to contribute a little more so investments in education and infrastructure can continue.
"We've been through tough times, but we always bounce back because of our character."
Romney says he's optimistic about the future and the prospect of growing peace. Says he can work with lawmakers of both parties to bring positive change.
"We need strong leadership, I'd like to be that leader, with your support," he says
Romney is wrapping up by talking about increased food stamp reliance, increased debt and promises not met on unemployment figures.
He wants to get America back on track, but "that's not going to happen by just hiring teachers," Romney said, in a dig at one of Obama's top platforms.
Romney chides Obama for investment in failed alternative energy firms, as Obama tries to interject.
As debate wraps, things are getting testier. The president is now saying that Romney hasn't been honest about his previous stances on the auto bailout.
Obama again brings up Romney investing in firms that "shipped jobs overseas," and cites his lack of support for the auto bailout.
"I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry," Romney replies. "The idea...that I would liquidate the industry, of course not."
"If I'm president, America will be very strong," Romney says. He says Obama hasn't been tough enough on China manipulating its currency.
Schieffer asks if it's wise to "start a trade war" with China on Day 1. Romney answers that one is "going on right now," and we have "to understand that we just can't surrender, and lose jobs day in and day out."
On China, Obama again raises outsourcing, and a crackdown on trade Chinese trade violations.
Says steelworkers in the Midwest can again sell products to China because "we won that case."
Romney says "it's not government that makes business successful."
On China, he said the country agrees with America on keeping world peace. "So we can be a partner with China. We don't have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form."
The president said that partnerships have been created throughout the Middle East to combat extremism. "We have stood on the side of democracy," he said.
Al Qaida "is much weaker than it was four years ago," Obama said.
Schieffer makes an "Obama bin Laden" slip as he leads into a Pakistan question. Is it time for the U.S. to divorce itself from the country, he asks Romney
Romney replies, "if it becomes a failed state, you have nuclear weapons there....we can't just walk away."
We're onto the Afghanistan War, after Romney objects to Schieffer not letting him to reply to Obama's last statements.
Romney expresses confidence in the 2014 transition to Afghan security, and quickly moves onto Pakistan "rushing to build nuclear warheads."
Obama references surge in Afghanistan that followed the end of the war in Iraq, and the "decimating" of Al Qaida leadership.
"We're now in a position to transition out," he said.
Obama says to Romney: "on a whole range of issues...you've been all over the map." He's found an attack and is sticking with it.
The president then cites Romney's 2008 comments on hunting bin Laden "not being worth heaven and earth."
Romney says "we're four years closer to a nuclear Iran."
He goes onto explain his "apology tour" comment, saying that on one of Obama's trips -- in which he skipped Israel -- he talked about "dictating" other countries.
"America has not dictated to other nations, it has freed other nations," Romney says.
Romney says Iran has looked at America and seen "weakness, where they expected to find American strength." Said Obama hasn't lived up to his promise to meet with world's worst actors, but instead started his "apology tour." That phrase has been a favorite attack of the governor's.
Obama: "Nothing Gov. Romney has said is true."
Schieffer asks about NYT report about nuclear talks with Iran; president again refutes it.
Obama: "The deal we'll accept is that they have no nuclear program. It's very straightforward."
Obama says "I'll stand with Israel, if attacked." Talks about "crippling sanctions" on Iran and that their "economy is in shambles," but that no options will be off the table.
Romney says a "nuclear-capable" Iran is unacceptable, and that he has called for "crippling sanctions" for more than 5 years. "I would have put them in place earlier, but it's good that we have them."
Romney talks about an aging, smaller military fleet. Obama makes a crack referencing that "this isn't a game of Battleship, counting ships."
We're onto Israel now.
Romney is going on about states running government entitlement programs more efficiently. Far afield from foreign policy.
Obama tracks back to military spending. "We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined."
But, what you can't do is spend an additional $2 trillion in military spending that "the military isn't asking for."
Romney has brought the broad question on America's role back to the economy, and has spent the last 90 seconds or so repeating his economic plan.
Obama tries to bring the topic back to education policy, progress in ailing schools and the hiring of more teachers.
"When you were asked about reduced class sizes, you said class sizes don't make a difference," the president says, to Gov. Romney.
Schieffer: "Let me get back to foreign policy."
Q: What is America's role in the world?
Romney says that in order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong, and that the economy must be strong. He's drops in a reference to college kids not being able to find good jobs.
He reiterates that he won't cut the military budget.
Obama talks about alliances never being stronger with countries in Asia and Europe. He said he won't reward countries for "shipping jobs overseas," his first outsourcing reference of the night.
Romney: "we want a peaceful planet," and Americans have the honor of promoting principles of peace. That begins with a strong economy, he says, deftly bringing back his top domestic campaign issue into a foreign policy debate.
Schieffer asks Romney if he'd go beyond the administration's actions in Syria. He says he wants to make sure that the citizens are able to remove Assad, and that they have the arms they need.
"We should have taken a leading role," he says.
Obama: what you heard Romney say is that "he doesn't have new ideas," because he largely agrees with what we've done.
Next question relates to Syria. Obama talks about sanctions against the government and aid to moderate opposition.
"What we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking," Obama says, but adds that more military involvement must be done with care.
Romney says that leadership effort in Syria should ensure that the insurgents will be the "responsible party."
"We should be playing the leadership role there," he said.
"Attacking me is not an agenda," Romney says forcefully.
Obama assails what he deems to be Romney's inconsistent statements on the Middle East. Repeats the "all over the map" attack, say it's not "a recipe for American strength."
Obama talks about Romney's previous Middle East strategy, and that it has been "all over the map," and not designed to keep Americans safe.
Romney replies that we need a path to get Muslims to reject extremism on their own. "We don't need another Iraq; another Afghanistan."
Romney notes a "complete change" in the structure of the Middle East, cites Arab Spring. Notes civilians killed in Syria, the terror attack on the embassy in Libya.
"What we're seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the hopes we had for the region."
He briefly congratulates Obama for the killing of Osama bin Laden, but then quickly says, "we can't kill our way out of this mess."
Schieffer welcomes the candidates to loud applause. They shake hands with each other (anyone want to time which debate handshake was longest?), then Schieffer, and we're under way.
First question: the changing Middle East, and the attack in Libya.
As opposed to the first debate, which utilized podiums, and the Hofstra faceoff, which surrounded the standing candidates with audience members in a town hall setting, tonight's debate will put Obama and Romney at a small desk, with Schieffer in the middle, facing them.
Schieffer has taken the stage, clasping a purple binder under his arm. He's urging the crowd to be as "quiet as mice." Just a few minutes from Obama and Romney taking the stage, as television cameras fix on Ann Romney and Michelle Obama in the crowd.
The format calls for five topics of discussion in six 15-minute segments. Expect questions on -- of course -- the recent attack in Benghazi, America's role in the world, the wind-down of the Afghanistan War, Iran's nuclear drive and China's rise as an economic force.
With Romney widely seen as having won the first debate, and Obama having made a comeback in the second, tonight's debate is something of a tie-breaker and will be the last time the candidates meet in a debate before the election on Nov. 6.
Good evening, and thanks for visiting the blog for live coverage of tonight's debate, which will be moderated by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. If you missed it, Newsday's Tom Brune previewed five likely issues in the Monday newspaper. Considering the sparks that flew at the Hofstra debate last week surrounding the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, that topic is likely to be contentious tonight as well.