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Foreign Policy Takes Center Stage In Final Debate


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

Tonight the presidential candidates meet for the final debate of this presidential election. President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will be in Boca Raton, Florida. The event will focus on foreign policy, which was never expected to rival the economy as a major issue in this campaign. But foreign policy has played a bigger role than anticipated in recent weeks.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has this preview of tonight's debate.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS released a list of subjects for tonight's debate. And based on what the candidates have said on the stump for the last year, it's not hard to predict what they'll say tonight about each subject.

First up is America's role in the world. Mitt Romney always argues that U.S. leadership is declining.

MITT ROMNEY: It is our responsibility and the responsibility of the president to use America's greatest power to shape history, not lead from behind.

SHAPIRO: The Obama administration says the world has never been more united behind an American agenda. Here's how Vice President Biden put it in his debate with Paul Ryan.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Forty-nine of our allies said out in 2014. It's the responsibility of the Afghans.

SHAPIRO: The war in Afghanistan is tonight's second topic, along with Pakistan. No doubt President Obama will mention the death of a certain terrorist who was hiding out in Pakistan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Osama bin laden is no more.

SHAPIRO: Third up is Israel and Iran, a subject Romney mentions in nearly every stump speech.

ROMNEY: Iran, closer and closer to having nuclear capability.

SHAPIRO: Then comes a pair of segments on the changing Middle East and terrorism. That could bring the next chapter in this tense exchange from last week's debate.


ROMNEY: It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CANDY CROWLEY: He did in fact, sir. So let me - call it an act of terror.

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

SHAPIRO: The final segment is about China. Anyone living in a swing state has seen that fight play out in TV ads.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It doesn't have to be this way. If Obama would stand up to China.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Romney's companies were called pioneers at shipping us manufacturing jobs overseas.

SHAPIRO: If there's any state where foreign affairs could determine people's votes, it's here in Florida, where the debate takes place.

DEAN POBLETI: I had a Filipino passport but I was born in Kenya - Nairobi, Kenya. So I have a weird background.

SHAPIRO: And you're here eating at a kosher restaurant.

POBLETI: That's right.


SHAPIRO: At the Jerusalem Grill in Ormond Beach, Israeli pop music plays through the speakers. Dean Pobleti just became a U.S. citizen this year. He sometimes feels like a target when he travels internationally now.

POBLETI: Flashing around that blue passport, you know, puts me on the radar in a lot of countries. You know, countries like the Philippines, where my parents are from.

SHAPIRO: Neither candidate has won him over. Small business owner Shaya Fogel waits in his car while his wife picks up groceries. After voting for President Obama last time, he has chosen Romney this time.

SHAYA FOGEL: I think the president has distanced himself from Israel, and I think it's something we need to repair. So I think that's important. Not the most important for an American, I think, but certainly up there.

SHAPIRO: Just next door, Brian Cavanaugh is having lunch at Los Amigos Cuban restaurant. He's originally from Ireland.

BRIAN CAVANAUGH: And I've seen what divisions can create. It can create civil wars, it can create wars between states. And we need to set up a situation where we can eliminate that. And I believe Obama is doing that. But I do not believe that Romney has any idea about peace and what it may bring and what war will bring.

SHAPIRO: Former pro golfer Mike Mollis oversees this little shopping center. He's a registered Republican who voted for Barack Obama four years ago. This time he's frustrated by what he sees as the Tea Party hijacking the Republican Party. He's still undecided but expects to make up his mind based on this debate.

MIKE MOLLIS: I think it would be very, very important what every candidate does, each candidate does on Monday night.

SHAPIRO: With a debate win in each candidate's column, tonight could be crucial as a tie breaker.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Daytona Beach, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.