(Updates with start of debate)
* Looking for an advantage with polls tied
* Can Obama fend off Romney challenge?
* Libya, Iran to figure prominently
By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick
BOCA RATON, Fla., Oct 22 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama
and Republican challenger Mitt Romney battled over foreign
policy on Monday in their third and final debate as they sought
to break a deadlock in opinion polls heading into the final two
weeks of campaigning.
The debate was the last major opportunity for either
candidate to appeal directly to millions of voters - especially
the roughly 20 percent who have yet to make up their minds or
who could still switch their support at the Nov. 6 election.
World hot spots like Libya and Iran were likely to figure
prominently, with Romney seeking to put pressure on Obama over
what the Republican considers weak responses to the killing of
the U.S. ambassador to Libya on Sept. 11 and Iran's nuclear
The stakes are high in the 90-minute encounter at Boca
Raton's Lynn University moderated by CBS News' Bob Schieffer.
The two candidates were tied at 46 percent each in the
Reuters/Ipsos online daily tracking poll. Other surveys show a
Obama came to Boca Raton with the advantage of having led
U.S. national security and foreign affairs for the past 3 1/2
years. He gets credit for ending the Iraq war and the killing of
al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
But Romney will have many opportunities to steer the
conversation back toward the weak U.S. economy, a topic on which
voters see him as more credible. His goal was to appear as a
credible alternative to Obama and avoid any gaffes that could
deflate his recent surge.
Presidential debates have not always been consequential, but
they have had an impact this year.
Romney's strong performance in the first debate in Denver on
Oct. 3 helped him recover from a series of stumbles and wiped
out Obama's advantage in opinion polls.
Obama fared better in their second encounter on Oct. 16, in
what was deemed to be one of the most confrontational
presidential debates ever, but that has not helped him regain
The viewership for the third debate could be lower than the
others, since foreign affairs is not typically a priority for
most voters and the two candidates were competing with a
professional football game and a baseball playoff game on other
The Obama campaign is now playing defense as it tries to
limit Romney's gains in several of the battleground states that
will decide the election.
Romney could have a hard time winning the White House if he
does not carry Ohio. A new Quinnipiac/CBS poll shows Obama
leading by 5 percentage points in the Midwestern state, but
another by Suffolk University shows the two candidates tied
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)
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