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THE DAY AFTER: President Obama and Mitt Romney faced off for their third and final debate last night, with the snap polls and most of the pundits calling the foreign-policy round for the commander-in-chief. That said, Romney wasn’t necessarily looking for a win as much as he was focused on playing things safe and convincing voters he’d be able to handle things in the situation room if the time ever comes. On that front, the GOP hopeful likely managed to get the job done—even if it meant falling largely in line with his rival’s foreign-policy positions.
BUT BEFORE WE LOOK BACK: Let’s look forward. There are only 14 days left until voters head to the polls on Nov. 6. With no unscripted moments left on the schedule between now and then, both camps will be working overtime to gain even the slightest advantage across the country. And by "across the country," we mean "in the battleground states." And by "the battleground states," we mostly just mean Ohio.
THERE’S A REASON WE SAID MOSTLY: Politico: "The main battlegrounds: Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, and Wisconsin. The late inclusion of Wisconsin on this list reflects a bet by Romney—buoyed by some polls showing an opportunity for him there—that he can turn a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1984. … The race, as both sides will privately concede, will ultimately hinge on Ohio. … But, typically, the two campaigns don’t agree on who’s ahead there."
MOMENTUM VS. THE MACHINERY: The New York Times: "Mr. Obama will spend the next two weeks pitting the campaign machinery he built to push his voters to the polls against Mr. Romney’s sense of momentum and new signs of hope in states that were tilting away from him only a month ago. … Heading into the final phase of their advertising war, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have contrasting imperatives. Mr. Romney is seeking to win over the last remaining undecided voters—many of them 2008 Obama supporters—by presenting himself as a credible president ready to work in the bipartisan manner swing voters crave. Mr. Obama has to keep that from happening."
WEIGEL: How Real Is Mittmentum?
PROJECTING CONFIDENCE: The Associated Press: "Both campaigns predicted victory, trying to ward off worries among the supporters they need to get to the polls. ‘In two weeks, a majority of Americans will choose Gov. Romney’s positive agenda over President Obama’s increasingly desperate attacks,’ said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams in a statement. … Obama senior strategist David Axelrod said he was confident Obama would win and that Americans soon will know who’s been bluffing in their dueling declarations of victory. ‘We have the ball, we have the lead,’ Axelrod told reporters on a conference call."
HAPPY TUESDAY and welcome to The Slatest PM, where your afternoon host apologizes for the technical hiccups that prevented yesterday’s debate preview from reaching your inbox. Tell him how much you missed him @JoshVoorhees or with an email to email@example.com.
THE POLLS: Romney currently holds a slim 0.6-point lead over the president in the Real Clear Politics national average, up roughly 4 points from a month ago, and—more importantly—has moved a handful of swing-states that had leaned Obama back into the toss-up column. While it is unclear if the Republican’s surge in the polls has leveled off, the numbers leave no doubt that Romney has steadily climbed his way back into the race, a fact that has clearly energized his campaign and supporters.
THE MAP: Obama has the easier time tracing a path to victory on the Electoral College map, mostly needing to just hold serve to do it. According to RCP, if you remove the toss-ups from the equation (a list that now runs 10 states long) Romney leads, 206 to 201. However, divvy those states up according to the current polling, and Obama crosses the 270-vote threshold with 11 votes to spare.
OK, NOW LET’S LOOK BACK: Slate’s John Dickerson: "Mitt Romney brought a knife to a gunfight. A butter knife. In the third and final presidential debate, focused on national security and foreign policy, the Republican challenger seemed to be living by the Hippocratic oath: Do no harm. In this case that meant a mostly passive, heavy-on-agreement discussion with his opponent the commander in chief. President Obama, by contrast, was on the attack, repeatedly calling Romney reckless and looking every bit like the politician who thinks he’s behind in the race. "
THREE-STEP PLAN: Slate’s Fred Kaplan: "Mitt Romney had a clear three-point plan for Monday night’s foreign-policy debate. First, agree with President Obama’s most popular national-security decisions. … Second, spin those Etch-a-Sketch knobs toward the middle with ferocious energy. … Third, veer the discussion to domestic policy, especially the persistently high unemployment rate, at every opportunity."
SPEAKING OF DOMESTIC POLICY PIVOTS: There were plenty of them last night. We did our best to trace the detours to see how a 90-minute debate on international policy could prompt moderator Bob Schieffer to utter what was surely the least-expected line of the night: "I think we all love teachers."
THE AVENGER: Slate’s Will Saletan: "Many folks watching last night’s debate noticed something odd about Mitt Romney. He abandoned his tough-guy rhetoric and positioned himself as the candidate of peace. … There’s a flip side to that irony. Barack Obama, the liberal law professor, has become the lord of drones, raids, ousters, and assassinations. … He’s not the candidate of war. He’s the candidate of vengeance.
THE REST OF SLATE’S DEBATE COVERAGE—
Politics: The 2012 Presidential Debate Awards (Boca Edition)
Breakingviews: The Foreign Policy Debate: What They Didn’t Say
Weigel: The Mythical "Sequester Gaffe"
Slatest: Yes, Bob Schieffer Misspoke. No, He Didn’t Say Obama Bin Laden.
XX Factor: Want to Improve the Debates? Stop Giving the Lame Slots to Female Moderators.
Moneybox: The World According to the 2012 Foreign Policy Debate (MAP)
ELSEWHERE IN SLATE—
Future Tense: Apple’s New iPad Mini Is Pricey But Sleek. Or Is It Sleek But Pricey?
XX Factor:The Popular Kids Who Tortured You in High School Are Now Rich
Explainer: Does Lance Armstrong Have To Return His Yellow Jerseys?
The Pivot: All Hail the Nanny State
Human Evolution: The Most Spectacular Mutation in Recent Human History
TNC: LISTEN: NOC, the Whale Who Tried To Mimic Humans
Culture: Don’t Miss the B____ in Apartment 23
We’ll see you back here tomorrow. But until then, tell your friends to subscribe here, or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.