Sargent: A pummeling for Mitt Romney in the final debate

President Barack Obama debates with Republican presidential candidate President Barack Obama debates with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. (Oct. 22, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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It's hard to see Monday as a good night for Mitt Romney.

For most of the third debate, Romney avoided attacking President Obama aggressively. Perhaps Romney decided to tread carefully to avoid major mistakes or in an effort to appear reassuring and presidential. But Romney clearly decided he needed to head off perceptions of himself as a throwback to George W. Bush-era foreign policy adventurism, repeatedly stressing his desire for a peaceful world.

Romney didn't take many of the shots he was expected to - while Obama landed a number of hard blows early on. Obama got right to his core message: We got Osama bin Laden, and we're ending Bush's wars. Obama sought to reinforce the sense that Romney lacks command of foreign policy, invoking past Romney statements to hit him for being "all over the map." Romney not only failed to effectively rebut many of these hits but again and again supported Obama's positions.

The downer of the night came when Romney strongly endorsed Obama's drone policy and moderator Bob Schieffer moved right along. Obama faced zero tough questions about it.

Romney was at his best when marshaling statistics to prosecute Obama's economic record. Obama didn't defend that record as strongly as he should have, but the president hit his core domestic policy messages well, reiterating that he saved the auto industry while Romney wouldn't have and fending off attacks on China and trade.

Obama repeatedly linked his fiscal sanity on defense, and savings from drawing down the Bush wars, to the need to invest in nation-building at home. In other words, he successfully connected the foreign policy debate to his core domestic policy message about the imperative of investing in long-term middle-class security.

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