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Third debate may be the charm

Quite frankly, it's difficult to put a lot of stock in debates, at least as far as serving as a reliable barometer for who would do the best job in the White House.

The consensus seems to be that in the initial match, Republican nominee Mitt Romney performed much better than President Barack Obama, coming across as a likable guy who didn't quite live up to the horns-and-pitchfork image that his opponents had drawn him with. Obama, from all accounts, stumbled and appeared disinterested to some degree, which we suspect was more from overconfidence than anything else. After all, polls showed that three out of five respondents expected Obama to excel in that event.

Since then, national polls showed Romney, who had been trailing Obama, got a significant bump.

Last week, Obama came out swinging while Romney dug in and held his own in the second debate between the candidates. Who "won" this one depends on who you listen to. Those supporting Obama were cheered by his performance and asserted that he mopped the stage with Romney. Romney supporters, meanwhile, profess that their guy actually came out on top and are quick to note their contention that CNN's Candy Crowley, the moderator, interrupted Romney 28 times to nine for Obama.

But if there's a telling result, it's the voter polls that have come out since that debate. They are showing Romney with the same lead he reached after the initial debate, which indicates Obama may have done better last week but he didn't change anyone's mind.

Tomorrow night's debate will be the rubber game and, with recent events, it may be Romney's best chance to improve his standing. The topic is foreign policy, a subject that Obama, given recent developments, can't be looking forward to.

Late last week, Romney's running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, was chomping at the bit following word that the CIA, within 24 hours of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, reported to Washington that witness accounts said it was an attack by militants. "I'm excited we're going to have a chance to talk about that on Monday," he said.

It's been made pretty clear from all accounts that there were no protesters outside the embassy gates who had gotten angry and out of control over an anti-Islam video produced in the United States. Still, the video was blamed for a week by Washington officials, leading to inevitable claims of cover-up for political reasons close to an election.

There will be a lot riding on Monday's debate, where Romney will attempt to make the Obama administration look incompetent and Obama will point to his successes, including the death of the hated Osama bin Laden. One thing about bin Laden: Obama detractors have tried to marginalize the event, saying any credit goes to the Navy SEAL team that did the job. Indeed, we agree that those brave SEALs did a superb job at great personal risk on behalf of a nation that should be grateful to them. But the fact is, if a Republican had been in office, he or she would not have led the firefight either. Presidents don't lead the military into battle, but they do have to make the decision in cases like this. Bin Laden was taken out on Obama's watch, and the president made the right call that night.

Each candidate, obviously, will work hard Monday night to convince Americans they will be safest from foreign attacks with him at the helm of the ship of state. The question is whether Romney can gain enough momentum to make deeper inroads in battleground states where Obama has been leading, partly because jobless rates in some of those states are improving.

It should make for some spirited discussion Monday night.