Credits: REUTERS/Mike Segar
Boca Raton, Fla. -- It has been a long time since Floridians witnessed a war: The Battle of Pensacola in 1781, the seven-year Second Seminole War circa 1835 and some minor Civil War skirmishes in the 1860s.
But on Monday, another battle will rage here when President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney square off for their third and final showdown in what has become increasingly acrimonious debates.
The focus: Foreign policy.
And where an incumbent generally has the edge on international affairs, Obama's once-15 point lead in support on foreign policy now has him barely ahead of Romney.
A Pew Research Centre survey earlier this month showed 47% of Americans think Obama would be better on foreign affairs, compared to 43% for Romney. The same poll in September had Obama at 53% and Romney at 38%.
Heading into the final showdown, Obama has accused Romney of being sick in the head -- literally, suffering from "Romnesia" since he keeps forgetting and denying earlier more conservative positions he's held on abortion and fiscal policy -- and Romney has fired back saying the president does not have an agenda for a second term.
"Have you been watching the Obama campaign lately? It's absolutely remarkable, they have no agenda for the future," Romney said in Daytona Beach, Fla. Friday. "They've been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games. Just watch it. The Obama campaign has become the incredible shrinking campaign. This is a big country, with big opportunities and great challenges and they keep on talking about smaller and smaller things."
One area of foreign policy where Romney and Obama legitimately disagree is the power of free trade, an issue particularly important to Canada. And even though Monday's debate, at Boca Raton's Lynn University, is focused on international affairs which does of course include the issue of trade, Canadians shouldn't expect to hear much about the more than $1 billion in goods and services that cross our shared border each day.
Or the "Buy American" clauses that Obama has twice attached to his stimulus bills, contrary to NAFTA rules.
Indeed, some are complaining the debate seems geared towards goosing TV ratings by ignoring trade as a major component of America's place in the world and focussing almost exclusively on war and security. In fact, most of the 90-minute debate is focused on the Middle East and North Africa, save 15 minutes at the end to address: The Rrise of China's and Tomorrow's World."
So Romney will have ample opportunity to attack Obama again -- an opportunity Romney fumbled badly in New York last week -- over his administration's handling of the Libya terrorist attack in which a U.S. ambassador and three other diplomatic workers were killed.
Critics have been accusing the White House of misleading Americans on the nature of the attack, claiming for weeks it was the work of a mob angered by an anti-Islamic video instead of a pre-planned terrorist attack on the anniversary of September 11. Mounting evidence suggests the Obama administration knew it was the latter soon afterwards, but continued to blame the video.
To prepare for the showdown, Obama has been holed up all weekend at the presidential retreat Camp David in rural Maryland, while Romney has been here.
It is no coincidence that Monday's debate, in which both candidates and the moderator, CBS News' Bob Schieffer, will be seated at the same table, takes place in Florida.
The largest of the swing states with 29 electoral college votes up for grabs, Florida is seen as a 'must-win' state for Romney and recent polls here have him and Obama virtually tied.
Florida's large Hispanic, Jewish and senior populations and the higher-than-national unemployment rate of 8.8% make it a hard state to peg ahead of November's election.
Romney crushed Obama in their first meeting in Denver, and the consensus is Obama pulled out a squeaker in New York, with the vice presidential debate in Kentucky serving more as a distraction to the main candidates' battle.
Nearly 70 million viewers around the world, but mostly in the U.S., have watched the first two debates.