Romney vs. Obama, Round 3: Maclean's previews the U.S. presidential debate

What to expect at tonight's foreign policy showdown

In the lead-up to tonight’s third presidential debate, taking place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., has polled the newsroom for previews and predictions. The debate, on foreign policy, happens at 9 p.m. EST, and the ‘folks’ below will be liveblogging.

Luiza Ch. Savage: “Tonight’s final presidential debate focuses on foreign policy. Earlier in the campaign this would have been a hands-down strength for President Obama, but now there is enough concern about the administration’s handling of the deadly attacks on U.S. diplomats in Libya, that Mitt Romney has room to score points. The president has to address the concern that his administration is having trouble getting its arms around the uprisings in the Middle East—that he has some strategy for dealing with the fallout from the uprisings in the Middle East. Romney has suggested arming the rebels in Syria, for example.

Meanwhile, Romney has an opportunity to answer the concern that his more hawkish conception of American power won’t turn into a recipe for more wars in the Middle East. I’ll also be watching to see what Romney has to say about the planned 2014 drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He has previously said that he supports Obama’s deadline, but has criticized Obama for announcing it publicly. But Romney’s most recent statements on the subject seemed to suggest that he would not necessarily stick to the deadline if commanders on the ground advised against it. And a wild card for this debate is a report that the Obama administration may be planning to engage in direct negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program.”

Jonathon Gatehouse: “Polls give Obama nine-point lead among women, same as Romney among men. Debate is up against Lions/Bears on MNF. So only one number will move.”

Charlie Gillis: “Benghazi attacks obvious acid test in tonight’s U.S. debate. Obama might be right, but Romney’s ‘passivity’ talking point seems stronger.”

Brian D. Johnson: “The final round of Presidential Idol will have a looser format than before, so it could turn into a slug fest. Foreign policy shmolicy—this is an acting job. Romney’s challenge is to be cool (more presidential, less snake-oil); Obama has to find passion and bring more of that Bin Laden-killing heat. Both need to master the reaction shot—knowing how to look while the camera watches you pretend to listen to the other guy.”

Michael Petrou: “I’d like to see whether either Romney or Obama remember there’s a massive and worsening war going on in Syria.”

Jaime Weinman: “I’m interested to see whether Romney can make the Benghazi story comprehensible to the average voter. Fox News and other outlets have constructed a massively complicated story arc about how Obama knew this or didn’t say that about Benghazi, but like any complicated TV story arc, it’s hard to understand if you came in in the middle. The question is if Romney can create a version of this story arc that actually makes it sound scandalous to someone who isn’t a regular viewer of his network.”

Paul Wells: “In 1960, Kennedy and Nixon spent much of their debate arguing about the fate of the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. It turned out to have almost nothing to do with the next four years. I’ll be looking for the candidate whose argument about America’s role in the world extends beyond cases that will be forgotten before Inauguration Day.”