Roundtable: In close race, third debate matters

(CBS News) As the presidential candidates prepare for their final debate, political journalists and commentators on "Face the Nation" said the debates have proven to be an important medium this presidential election. They say Monday's match-up, which is on foreign policy, could be no different.

"I think the stakes are pretty high for both candidates," Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said. "[I]f we are lucky, we, the voters, we will come out of it at the end thinking, 'I actually know something of Mitt Romney's philosophy as he looks at the world and America's place in it. I understand better what President Obama wants to do and how he sees things.'"

New York Times correspondent David Sanger said the candidates have different beliefs for the United State's role overseas. The debate, he said, should give the American people a clear understanding of their stances.

"You have in Mitt Romney a man who keeps talking about restoring that unipolar moment for the United States, where the U.S. was the preeminent power around the world and basically had no challengers," Sanger said. "What you hear from President Obama is something different. What you hear is we're in a different age now. We've got to pull back from these wars. We have to build coalitions. And countries that have a greater interest in solving a problem like Libya or Syria have to put skin in the game first. The U.S. will be there to back them up. That's a very different concept. It's one of sharing power, building coalitions."

Political columnist for Time Magazine, Joe Klein, said Romney successfully used the first debate to overcome an image of him painted by President Obama. "[T]he Obama campaign spent the entire summer very effectively making the argument through advertising that Mitt Romney was a rich guy who didn't care about you. I think that Romney took care of that. That was a huge mountain for him to climb," Klein said.

Klein noted that the president had a stronger second debate, and that he will be in a very strong position in the debate focused on foreign policy "because his foreign policy has been largely successful."

But what Klein saw as "fascinating" about Monday's debate is that "these guys don't disagree all that much on all this stuff. They essentially have the same positions on foreign policy. This business about, you know, the Libya consulate has been like the 'October mirage.' It really isn't an issue."

Sanger said he hopes the issue of China is discussed in Monday's contest since it is a foreign policy issue with domestic repercussions. He said the reason Romney is "being very aggressive" on the issue of China, vowing to label the country as a currency manipulator, is because it polls very well in the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

"The trouble is, as Senator [Marco] Rubio pointed out, you don't want to get into a trade war. That would be much, much, much worse," Sanger said.

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As both the national and battleground state polls showing the race tightening, CBS News' John Dickerson said the president's Electoral College strength "is shrinking as Romney does better." Dickerson detailed a scenario where the race is so close that the Electoral College results are tied 269 to 269, with neither candidate reaching the necessary threshold of 270 to win the election.

"That would kick it into the House of Representatives [to decide] the president. But then the Senate would choose the vice president. So in theory, you could have the Republicans choosing their man and the Democrats in the Senate choosing their man," Dickerson explained.

"I think one of the fascinating things about this presidential campaign, and all the smarty-pants and all the political professionals, pundits - everybody who follows politics really closely - nobody knows what's going to happen this year," Noonan said. "Normally people who are paying a lot of attention got a real idea [but] I'm fascinated by the mystery of it."

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