Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney prepare for crucial third and final presidential debate

 

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The Independent US

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney both took a break from the campaign trail this weekend to prepare for tomorrow's third and final presidential debate, their last chance to directly confront each other before millions of TV viewers with polls showing the race deadlocked.

The 90-minute debate in Boca Raton, Florida, focusing on foreign policy comes just 15 days before the November 6 election.

Its moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, has listed five subject areas, with more time devoted to the Middle East and terrorism than any other topic.

While the economy has been the dominant theme of the election, foreign policy has attracted renewed media attention in the aftermath of last month's attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Mr Obama had ranked well with the public on his handling of international issues and in fighting terrorism, especially following the death of Osama bin Laden.

But the administration's response to the Libya attack and questions over levels of security at the consulate have given Mr Romney and his Republican allies an issue with which to raise doubts about Mr Obama's foreign policy leadership.

Mr Romney's team has focused on Libya, following reports that Obama's administration could have known early on that militants, not protesters angry over a film produced in the US that ridiculed Islam, launched the attack that killed the US ambassador there.

Within 24 hours of the attack, the CIA station chief in Libya told Washington about eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants, officials said.

The report from the CIA station chief was written late on Wednesday, September 12, and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said.

It is not clear how widely the information was circulated. US intelligence officials have said the information was just one of many widely conflicting accounts, which became clearer by the following week.

Mr Obama has insisted that information about the Libya attack was shared with the American people as it came in.

Mr Obama left on Friday for Camp David, the presidential hideaway in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, where he is huddled with advisers preparing for the debate. Mr Romney was also with aides preparing for the debate, spending the weekend in Florida.

But heading into the campaign's final weeks, the economy and other domestic issues remain the main focus of both candidates.

Mr Romney is upping his criticism of Mr Obama's plans for a second term, accusing the Democrat of failing to tell Americans what he would do with four more years.

The Obama campaign is aggressively disputing the notion, claiming it is Mr Romney who has not provided specific details to voters.

At campaign events, in a new ad and fundraising appeal, Mr Romney is setting up the closing weeks as a choice between what he says is Mr Obama's "small" campaign that's offering little new policy and his own ambitious plan to fundamentally change America's tax code and entitlement programmes.

The new Romney ad criticises the president's policies on debt, health care, taxes, and energy, arguing that Mr Obama is simply offering more of the same.

The fundraising appeal hits Mr Obama for raising taxes and increasing the debt by 5.5 trillion US dollars, repeating the lack-of-agenda criticism.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan continued the no-agenda theme against Mr Obama at campaign stops near Pittsburgh and in Belmont, Ohio.

"He's not even telling you what he plans on doing," Mr Ryan told a rain-soaked crowd of about 1,100 people at a campground in coal-rich eastern Ohio.

Mr Obama's campaign disputes the notion that the president hasn't outlined a detailed second-term agenda, pointing to his calls for immigration reform, ending tax breaks for upper income earners, fully implementing his health care overhaul and ending the war in Afghanistan.

In a statement, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner ticked through a series of policy items, calling them "just part of President Obama's agenda for a second term."

Mr Obama, at the Democratic National Convention, called for creating one million manufacturing jobs over the next four years with a mix of corporate tax rate cuts and innovation and training programmes.

He has set a goal of cutting the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years. He also has called for Congress to pass proposals he made last year that include includes tax credits for companies that hire new workers and funding for local municipalities to hire more teachers, police officers and firefighters.

AP

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