Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Breaking Down the Third Presidential Debate
Aired October 22, 2012 - 22:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A more civilized debate than the second debate. There were a few areas where they got into it, especially on domestic economic issues, especially the future of the U.S. auto industry. they fought over that.
You can see the children up there, the kids. Mitt Romney's five sons, the wives, the grandchildren are all there, as well. They'll probably stay up on the stage for a few minutes.
This was a debate where, on foreign policy aspects, where they wound up agreeing, even though there were nuances of disagreement, they wound up basically, in terms of the big picture, agreeing on a lot -- on Iran, on Israel, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, even on China. Basically the thrust was one of agreement, even now at times they had little rhetorical flourishes against each other.
It's going to be interesting to see what happens as far as the vote is concerned. As our fact checkers are going through all the facts. Our focus group is taking a close -- a close look to see what they thought were minds changed as a result of this debate.
We're going to have an instant poll coming up pretty soon of people who actually watched this debate. We'll continue to show these pictures.
Candy Crowley is on the scene for us over there. Candy, what did you think?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was interesting. I thought that they came with very different agendas tonight.
I think the president came to rough up Mitt Romney. I think he acted like a person that had to sort of stop some momentum by Romney. He went after him: you know, "You're all over the map. That's not what you said before." I mean, almost every single answer from the president had something to do with Mitt Romney.
I feel as though Mitt Romney approached this like a physician: first do no harm. I feel like he didn't -- he didn't come in to necessarily win. I think he came in, you know, as a man that has had a certain amount of momentum over the past three or four weeks since that first debate and not wanting to ruin it.
But I want to bring in James Carville, a Democratic strategist. You wonder why we don't see you all at the same time. You're the same person. More from Paul Begala, James Carville. Ari Fleischer is still here with us. So impressions?
CARVILLE: It's obvious that the president came to attack. Governor Romney came to agree. It seems like that somebody gave Governor Romney the same drug that they gave the president before the first debate. I mean, he was trying to run the clock out. He agreed with him I don't know how many times. It was not a -- he didn't have very much to say, to tell you the truth.
FLEISCHER: Well, I don't this debate is going to change a thing about the trajectory of this race. The first debate set it off, and this debate won't stop it. Mitt Romney has got the momentum.
You almost got the sense that the American people are so focused on the economy this cycle, foreign policies debates like this just aren't going to -- they're not going to move people.
But Candy, I do think Mitt Romney had one goal in mind when he came here tonight. And that was to make sure he could appeal to women voters. He had a tone about him. He had a way about him, by talking about peace, calling to the United Nations. That I think the president wanted to define him as the too muscular Republican in the George W. Bush mold. Mitt Romney wanted to define himself very differently.
CROWLEY: Right. He was not going to be painted as a war monger.
CARVILLE: This is going to be the Republican talking point: this debate didn't matter. The reason they're going to say that because the truth of the matter is, this debate was a rout. And anybody that watched that is going to say that.
That's why you're saying it. You know what happened out there tonight. And I'll give you credit for coming up with a good talking point.
FLEISCHER: That's because the public is focused on the economy. The economy is where the voters are. I think we've all seen that and known it for a year.
CROWLEY: Ari Fleischer, James Carville. Stick with me. We want to go back to Anderson.
COOPER: Let's talk to our analysts and contributors. You, I think, certainly saw the advantage of being a sitting president and getting briefings for the last four years. Quick thoughts, John King.
KING: The president won on points, largely for the reasons you said. He's the commander in chief. He does this every day. He was more comfortable going around the world and talking about these things. There's no question debate coaches would score this one for the president, I think.
However, I do think it's very important to the point Ari just made. Governor Romney came in here trying not to be pushed to the right. He actually came in the middle. He's the peace candidate. He's the negotiation candidate. He does not want to start a war. And the president, in previous debates, why Democrats are mad, the president has let Governor Romney move toward the center. The president challenged him more on that front.
But Governor Romney did have a bit of momentum coming in. The question is, does this impact the race, all this talk about Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and the like? I don't know.
COOPER: David Gergen.
GERGEN: I thought both campaigns could come out of this happier tonight. In the early part of the debate, last part of the debate, I thought Mitt Romney did fairly well. But President Obama dominated the better of the debate. And I think he did emerge winning. On debate points, I think he won.
COOPER: The best lines of the night? The bayonets.
GERGEN: Exactly. Let me tell you, I think Mitt Romney did something that's extremely important to this camp tonight, and that was he passed the commander in chief test. I think a lot of people did come out of this feeling very comfortable. Let's put aside the partisans. Come out of this thing fairly comfortable with him in the Oval Office. That's extremely important.
I think it leaves a very, very competitive race. I don't know whether it's going to tip it or not.
But as I say, I think President Obama clearly had two very good nights. I thought Mitt Romney, this was one of his weaker nights, but I do think that, by doing a very surprising thing, by coming at Obama occasionally from his left to say, "We're not going to kill our way out of this," he avoided the trap of being the war monger. I think he did that very successfully, and I think he came across as a responsible-sounding commander in chief.
COOPER: Let's listen to one of the things Mitt Romney said tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The greatest threat of all is Iran four years closer to a nuclear weapon. And we're going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president's done. I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda, but we can't kill our way out of this mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It is -- I mean, what he was saying is, are those the policies he would actually have in place as president? Do we know where he is? Because it didn't seem there was much difference. He seemed to agreeing with President Obama an awful lot.
ZAKARIA: But I think David's point is exactly right. He actually, where he attacked him, he attacked him from the left. He said, "You don't have enough of a civil society strategy. You don't have enough of an education strategy toward Islamic extremism. You're just -- you're just -- you're the cowboy."
What's strange here is, this was a version of what Mitt Romney did in the first debate. Which is to say Romney surprised Obama in the first debate by being more centrist. I'm not going to do anything to raise the deficits, whatever you may have heard about my tax plan. Except this time Obama was ready, and I think that David is exactly right. He knew how to effectively.
COOPER: Gloria, your point, let's hear one of the comebacks from President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example. We have fewer ships than we did in 1916.
Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: A little sarcastic. Yes, that was pretty brutal.
COOPER: An easy line to come back from, because Governor Romney has used that line for weeks now about having fewer ships. It's something the president obviously prepared.
BORGER: Right. If there were a word cloud over Mitt Romney's head tonight, it would have been "peace." I mean, you heard...
GERGEN: He ran as the peace candidate.
BORGER: He ran as the peace candidate. It was his strategy. He didn't want to come out as a warmonger. But my Blackberry started buzzing from conservatives, I must say, when Mitt Romney said unequivocally, troops out of Afghanistan in 2014.
Before this we had been hearing, OK, the generals on the ground have to make the decision. And his point tonight was the generals are getting ready for troops out in 2014. And some conservatives were kind of second guessing.
ZAKARIA: George -- George McGovern has risen again.
CASTELLANOS: A little far. But it was obviously a very clear Romney strategy tonight. And that is in a country that thinks we're on the wrong track, the majority of people think we're headed the wrong way abroad, where we see the world on fire, at home where we see -- fear an economic decline. We want change.
And Mitt Romney tonight is safe change. He was making change safe. He was hugging Obama, where they agreed, being a reasonable Republican.
Who came in on the attack tonight? Barack Obama. Why do you attack? Because you're behind. And tonight, we saw a very aggressive Obama who used the same strategy as in the second debate: attack. It didn't help him in the second debate.
I think he won tonight on points, Barack Obama, no doubt. But the political win tonight? Romney's momentum, if he has it in Ohio, is undimmed tonight. He passed the leadership test; he's a safe Republican. That's not the opponent that Barack Obama has been planning for a year to run against in just a couple weeks.
COOPER: Van Jones.
JONES: Well, I -- I thought that he did not pass the commander in chief test. I thought he sat there and he looked sort of out of his depth often. He was kind of sweating, kind of Nixonian style. I thought he was out of his depth.
And then he changed his position on so many things. I brought my Etch-a-Sketch to try to keep track of all the times that he changed his position. He changed his position on Iraq. He changed his position on Afghanistan. It's time to get out of Afghanistan now. He said the opposite.
So this is, I think the only memorable thing that he said was that great line about "We can't kill our way out." But again, that was from the left. I think when you -- Obama made...
CASTELLANOS: That's not from the left, let's clear that up.
JONES: I'll finish my point, you finish your point. I think that Obama made important points for people in Ohio, when he said, "If we listened to you, sir, we would be buying cars from China rather than selling cars to China." Obama has numerous memorable lines. He definitely improved his game, I thought Romney collapsed tonight.
CASTELLANOS: Can we make one point, though, that Republicans -- that Democrats are not the only people who think we can't kill our way to a peaceful world? That Republicans actually aren't for killing a lot of people? That Republicans actually think if you have peace through strength, a stronger nation, you can avoid problems throughout the world?
CASTELLANOS: Saying that -- saying that -- because strength is important to project and to be able to extend across the world.
ZAKARIA: But Alex, you don't hear Republicans say, "We should fund more civil society."
COOPER: Actually, Arab scholars at the United Nations.
ZAKARIA: Arab scholars at the United Nations. All those words...
COOPER: We're going to have a lot more -- we're going to have a lot more from our panel, obviously. Let's go back to Wolf right now.
BLITZER: All right. Our expert team of producers, researchers, reporters, they've been very busy throughout the course of these 90 minutes trying to figure out whether the candidates were telling the truth in tonight's debate. John Berman is ready with our first reality check after this debate -- John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
You know, one of the first heated moments is when they sparred over troops in Iraq. President Obama claimed Mitt Romney said the U.S. should still have some troops there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You say that you're not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq. But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So what are the facts here?
In December of 2011 Romney said this: "We should have left 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 personnel there to help transition to the Iraqi's own military capabilities."
And then just a couple of weeks ago, Romney said this: "America's ability to influence events for the better in Iraq have been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence."
So our verdict here is, true with important context. Yes, Romney suggested he would have kept some troops in Iraq, but coming up, this is the important context. On Iraq, Mitt Romney claimed that President Obama was looking to keep some troops there, as well. Which the president denied.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: You and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement.
OBAMA: I didn't.
ROMNEY: You didn't? You didn't want a status of...
OBAMA: What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So what are the facts here? Well, Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, was negotiating to keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq, within a so-called status of forces agreement. This fell apart over the issue of whether U.S. troops would have certain immunity from prosecution.
So our verdict here is what Mitt Romney says is mostly true. The president was willing to leave some troops in Iraq under certain conditions. The deal just fell apart -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The status of forces agreement negotiation collapsed. As a result all U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Good initial reality check, John. Thanks very much.
Jessica Yellin, Jim Acosta are joining us from Lynn University, as well. Let's go to Jessica first. Jessica, you have a guest?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. I do. I'm here with David Axelrod, one of the most senior advisers on the Obama campaign. You've known the president for years.
I want to ask David tonight. The president asked -- pointed out to Mitt Romney at one point that the Navy, he compared it to bayonets and horses.
Now, already the Romney campaign is saying that this can be put to use to their benefit in Norfolk and Portsmouth, important swing areas. Did the president inadvertently hand him an opening?
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: That's the way they think about all these foreign policy issues, Jessica. They think about it in very narrow political terms. But the fact is that what the president said to Governor Romney is we don't have $2 trillion extra to spent on defense, that the Pentagon isn't even asking for. And that we have other needs in terms of rebuilding our country and in terms of our national defense. We have to have a national defense for the 21st century. We don't have -- we don't need the Navy of 1916, because we have aircraft carriers and we have submarines, and we have a modern 21st century, strategic scheme that he apparently is unaware of.
But I think this was just -- the whole night was a case of a president who's a strong decisive commander in chief who knows what he believes, says what he believes, is consistent in his beliefs. And Governor Romney, who is wrong and reckless and all over the place. And I think this was a rather decisive evening.
YELLIN: Let me ask you, at one point the president said that the sequester, which is this big fiscal cliff we're facing at the end of the year, he said simply it's not going to happen. Are there secret talks going on? How can he be so sure?
AXELROD: Well, he can be sure because when the people vote on November 6 and the president is re-elected, a strong message will be sent -- sent that the American people want a balanced approach to solving this problem.
There are plenty of people on both sides who want to get that done and will get that done. But we can't get it done if you take the position that Governor Romney has taken, which is, we're not going to ask for one extra dollar from any American, no matter how wealthy, to solve this problem. There isn't a person who knows anything about this, who suggests that we can do it, and if we did, it would wreck our economy and would retard our ability to grow. It would be disastrous.
So the president understands that there are partners there for him. But the American people are going to put their imprint on this issue on November 6.
YELLIN: OK. So no secret he was revealing there.
All right. David Axelrod, thanks very much. Wolf, the Obama team is feeling very good about this debate in this hall tonight. And a big relief all around from them.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are. All right, Jessica. Thanks very much. Jim Acosta has got a special guest, as well -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I'm with Ohio Senator Rob Portman. He was President Obama's stand-in, I guess, during the debate preparations for Mitt Romney.
I want to ask you about an exchange that happened at the very end of that debate. It was over the auto bailout for the car industry in this country. The president reminding viewers out there that Mitt Romney had that op-ed about letting Detroit go bankrupt.
And then Mitt Romney said, "I never said I would liquidate the industry."
And the president went back and said, "You can't air brush the history on this." What is the history on this? Did he not say in that op-ed in "The New York Times" that he opposed the auto bailout?
SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: First of all, that's great for us to get the issue out, because people are going to be really surprised to learn the facts. And the facts are that it's President Obama who took the auto companies through bankruptcy.
ACOSTA: Governor Romney advocated that policy, as well, in that op-ed.
PORTMAN: He also advocated government help for the auto companies to get them back on their feet. What he didn't advocate, as the president did, was to leave a lot of people out of retirement. That's the workers you heard about.
He also shut down a lot of dealerships, picking and choosing, the government, which ones would be closed or not in Ohio. He chose to close two auto plants. Also we're still at about $25 billion in taxpayers, so...
ACOSTA: What did Governor Romney say in that op-ed, though? If you were to have the bailout go into effect, that the auto industry as it stood at that time would cease to exist?
PORTMAN: No, not at all. Not at all. Just the opposite, you know. Just like, you know, Macy's, the biggest department store in the country went through bankruptcy, just like 7-Eleven went through bankruptcy. The auto industry...
ACOSTA: He opposed the bailout? He opposed the bailout?
PORTMAN: No, no. He said there ought to be government help provided for these auto companies to get back on their feet. But he wanted to do it sooner. Obama -- President Obama waited to do it later, which made it more difficult. Also, he didn't want the government to play such a central role in picking winners and losers, which is one of the problems with the bailout in Ohio.
ACOSTA: Very quickly on foreign policy, during the debate, Mitt Romney agreed with the president on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the use of drones, the wider use of drones, and an Afghanistan withdrawal by 2014. After he criticized the president over the course of the year in various speeches on foreign policy, it sounded like he agreed a lot with the president tonight.
PORTMAN: Well, you know, where he agreed with the president, he said so. And I think that was actually refreshing to a lot of viewers who are watching, including a lot of undecided voters.
But he also laid out some very clear differences with the president. And most importantly, he laid out a vision and a strategy for the future, which once again, the president did not do, just as he had not in the first two debates on the domestic policy issues.
And so I thought it was a great night for Mitt Romney. He was thoughtful. He was knowledgeable.
ACOSTA: The president did not sink his battleship?
PORTMAN: He certainly did not. I mean, I think if anything, Mitt Romney seemed like the guy who was more ready to be commander in chief. And he was more presidential.
ACOSTA: All right, thanks, Senator Portman. Appreciate it very much.
And Wolf, we'll send it back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta and Jessica Yellin, thanks very much. Soledad O'Brien was watching, together with a focus group of uncommitted voters in Orlando, the University of Central Florida. Soledad, how did it go?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was very interesting to watch them watching this debate. And if you were watching on TV, you saw those squiggly lines. Those were our very focus group of watchers. And you were getting to see what they were thinking. They dialed up if they thought it was interesting and they liked it. Dialed way down if, in fact, they didn't like it.
A couple things that we noticed, and I should mention roughly divided. Twelve women, 13 men. And we're crunching the final data right now. I should say, two professors at SMU are crunching that data.
A couple of things we noticed overtly. A big lapse. At the very beginning when the debate veered off foreign policy and quickly went to education. I think when both men were talking about education, acting as if they were still talking about foreign policy, we saw a lot of people in our focus group sort of laughing about that, realizing that they had veered off very much off the topic.
President Obama, as we all know, got in a dig about Mitt Romney saying that the Navy was the smallest since 1916. And he said, well, we have fewer horses and bayonets, as well.
We got some big laughs out of the crowd on that. And I'm going if I can for a moment with Bob Thrace (ph) over here. I'm going to go this way. So you said -- often we in the media we talk about moments. Did you think that that was an important moment that would influence your vote in any way?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. I think the digs are just part of the game, just a distraction that takes you away from the facts.
O'BRIEN: Another big moment that we saw toward the end as when Mr. Romney was talking a little bit about education. And he said, "I love teachers." I'm going to bring it up here. You seemed very affected by that. I noticed you rolling your eyes a lot. What's your name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Ann (ph).
O'BRIEN: And tell me a little bit about that moment for you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I just -- I just felt it was totally unnecessary. I was very -- actually, I was uncomfortable with it. I thought that he was really digging for something. Digging for something, and he -- it was unnecessary.
O'BRIEN: Sean (ph), you told me earlier you are unemployed. You've been looking for work for a few months. And you told me earlier that you were hoping to get something out of this debate so you could make a decision. Did this conversation, this debate tonight help you decide? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, I was looking for more of an option out of Romney. I -- I think of him as a very intelligent candidate. But I think tonight it just was weaker than what he started off in the first debate.
So I think I've really made a decision to stick with President Obama in this election.
O'BRIEN: So we know that there are some folks who actually have made their decision. We started with 25 undecideds. You don't have to tell me who you're voting for. Because I know for a lot of people, that's something personal; you don't want to share. But raise your hand if tonight's debate has actually changed your opinion, that you are now moving out of the undecided category, into the decided category. Raise your hand.
All right. So some people making some big decisions tonight. And have changed out of the undecided category.
Let's send this right back to Anderson -- Anderson.
COOPER: Soledad, thanks very much.
We're also awaiting the results of our poll, a poll that we've had at the end of each of these debates. We're going to bring that to you, the results as soon as we get them.
But let's talk a little bit more about what we just heard. Again, we often hear from these folks, "Oh, we don't like the attacks." And yet, as you pointed out, poor John, people remember them, and actually, that's why they're negative ads?
KING: People hate the attacks. People hate the negative ads. And then you ask them on the way out of the polling place why did you make your choice, and they recite the last two negative ads they saw.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) And one of the great things in traveling in the last several weeks is you go to these states, you have people do say that they're sick of them. But they can't escape them, including during your daytime programs when they're aimed at women. And so you go from -- the fascinating thing is to ask, "What do you watch during the day? What do you watch at night?" What sporting events do you watch? And the campaigns are targeting different voters at different times of the day. That's what they do. And trust me: People can't escape them. Even though they don't like them, they're remembering them.
COOPER: Do you think tonight moved the needle in any direction?
ZAKARIA: I think it wasn't a debate as much as a discussion. Because as I said, Romney agreed with Obama so much in a surprising way.
The one area where I wonder whether Obama gained an advantage is, he quite effectively pointed out that Romney was -- was indecisive or had waffled on an issue or gone back and forth. And he kept saying, you know, being commander in chief, being president is about being consistent. I said I'd do this when I started. I think that was probably the most effective line of attack that Obama had.
COOPER: Did he set a vision for why he should have four more years?
BORGER: The president?
BORGER: Not any more than I think we've heard, other than in the -- you know, in the summation. But I think what was striking to me, and we were talking about the word cloud before. I heard from somebody who was working with the president very closely, who said in the word cloud should have been "I agree."
Because what we heard so much from Mitt Romney -- and I think that may muddle things to a certain degree for him. Not only was his base, who was probably disappointed in the Afghanistan answer, but also with people who were looking for a clear way to kind of make a decision.
COOPER: But is it OK to say, I agree now, and -- when earlier you were saying something else?
BORGER: Well, that's the problem. Well, that's the problem. If you watched the primary debates, this -- you know, Romney was much more muscular and sort of attacking the president on foreign policy.
ZAKARIA: If you look at one thing I was struck by, in Afghanistan, he said, the surge worked.
BORGER: The surge worked.
ZAKARIA: Now, I don't think I've heard any Republican say that.
COOPER: Praise the president's surge.
ZAKARIA: And, in fact, you could make a reasonable argument that the surge has had mixed results.
CASTELLANOS: The other side -- the other side of looking like a commander in chief, though, and that was one of the big tests tonight, is you're also auditioning for that job next to the nuclear button. And you don't want to be too hot.
And Barack Obama was on the attack tonight. And I thought at times he was a little disdainful, petulant. It was personal, not just policy. So I think he paid a price for the attacks.
And these debates are not only important tonight. It's the next week. The bites that are going to play, there are going to be very few Romney attack bites that play. There are going to be a lot of presidential Romney bites. There are going to be a lot of Obama on the attack bytes.
BORGER: There are going to be a lot of "I agree" bites.
CASTELLANOS: That's smart strategy for Romney.
JONES: It almost seemed like -- it almost seemed like -- it almost seemed like Romney was -- if this debate had gone on for 30 more minutes, Romney was going to endorse Obama.
GERGEN: That's a strong...
JONES: No -- but in terms of impact, look at InTrade. At 9:21, Obama went to almost 80 percent on InTrade. People watched this, they were confused by Mitt Romney, they saw consistency from Obama and they moved his direction. People who watched.
COOPER: But again, is that enough to actually change things on the ground?
GERGEN: I don't think we know. Let's give it a few days to sort of see how this sorts out. I think President Obama had two very good back-to-back debates. He came back for his base. There are a lot of people out there who are thrilled. There are some Republicans out there who are disappointed they didn't see more energy with Romney tonight.
I want to go back to something Alex said -- I don't think that Romney's point tonight was to try to -- to try to be more aggressive than Obama. He was trying to avoid the trap...
GERGEN: ... of being painted as a warmonger. As someone who can get us into war, I think he did pretty well.
ZAKARIA: He was trying not to be the prosecutor, but to be the president.
KING: You have to look at the three debates cumulatively, the three debates cumulatively, what did they do? I think we'll see if this one moves the dial tonight, but Romney proved himself a credible challenger. Romney tonight did keep pressing his own agenda line.
On the battleships and bayonets. That will be an ad for the president.
COOPER: Let's check in with Wolf -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much.
And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer here at the CNN Election Center.
We're beginning our coverage, a comprehensive look at how the president of the United States and the Republican presidential nominee did in their final presidential debate. In this hour we're releasing the results of CNN's scientific poll of debate watchers. Who do they think won tonight. Stand by for that.
Also, our reality check team headed by John Berman and Tom Foreman. They continue to pour through the candidates' answers. They've caught several things already. You're going to want to hear what's going on.
And Soledad O'Brien is standing by with undecided voters in central Florida. We're looking at when they gave their highest and lowest marks to these two presidential candidates. President Obama bristled when Mitt Romney accused him of going on a world tour apologizing for the United States shortly after office. Listen to what Romney said and listen to the president's comeback.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia, and to Turkey and Iraq. And -- and by the way, you skipped Israel. Our closest friend in the region. But you went to the other nations, and by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel.
And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated other nations.
Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed nations from dictators.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bob, let me respond. If we're going to talk about trips that we've taken, when I was a candidate for office, the first trip I took was to visit our troops. And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors. I didn't attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.
And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot which had experienced missiles reigning down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms and I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids. Which is why as president we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles. So that's how I've used my travels. When I travel to Israel and when I travel to the region.
And the central question at this point is going to be, who's going to be credible to all parties involves?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Both candidates speaking very, very glowingly of their support for Israel. One thing I did notice, Anderson, is that a few weeks ago on "60 Minutes," the president said Israel was one of our closest allies in the region. Tonight, twice, not once, but twice he said, Israel is our, quote, "greatest ally in the region." A nuance but significant for some voters out there, no doubt.
COOPER: Yes. We want to take a look right now at where the race stands.
John King, where are we tonight?
KING: Well, we entered this debate -- and we'll see if this debate moves the dial. We'll see if it actually moves voters. The past debates have increased the first one Governor Romney's Republican intensity. Also helped him with independents in the suburb. The second one without a doubt, President Obama came back, up with the Democratic base, stopped some of the Romney momentum.
But I'm going to get up and take a walk to go across, because now we enter into 14 days. Fourteen days and each of the campaigns has to make critical decisions. They will do this with the polling they have after tonight. Plus their just gut sense coming in and we have a race that's playing out. Nine tossup states across the country. The president at the moment has an advantage and a decent advantage when it comes to the race to 270. That's the electoral college.
Let's take this away and bring this up. Here's how we scored it coming in. You need 270 to win. Dark blue, solid Obama, light blue, leaning Obama, dark blue -- solid Republican, light red -- I'm sorry, light red, leaning Governor Romney. So 237 to 191 coming in. These nine states, they go from Nevada in the west to New Hampshire in the east, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, all of our tossup states.
The debate tonight was in the state of Florida. Now that one has been trending Governor Romney's way. They feel more and more confident about it. The question is, if the Obama campaign agrees, and privately they do, they think it's moving that way, they're not convinced yet. Do they slow down, stall, cut some of their television advertising. That's what's going to happen, Anderson, Wolf, and all, over the next 14 days.
This is a game of chess. And the president has an easier path. Not an easy path but an easier path to 270. So when you look at all these tossup states, they will have to make calculations, where we should we land the plane, whether it's the president or Governor Romney, Vice President Biden or Congressman Ryan.
Where do we spend more on TV, where do we spend less on TV? Where do we need our friends to go in and help us out? Where do we have to gin up the turnout operation. So here's what I would say here. If you look at this I think the president won the battle tonight to mention Ohio more on this debate.
And why is that state so important? Well, no Republican has ever won without the state of Ohio. And increasingly, again I'm going to do a hypothetical. Democrats think, at least coming into the debate, this one was starting to get away, the state of Florida.
The North Carolina we're starting to get away, you can be certain even though the president might have had the right answer on policy, we'll debate that one, but the answer about Navy ships will play in the state of Virginia.
If this happens, and this is what the Romney campaign thinks is happening, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia going to Republican, DNA, how does the president block Governor Romney? This is the key right here.
I talked to a top Democrat tonight who said, we can't win without it, he can't win without it, Ohio is the big battleground in the days ahead. Because if the president can keep Ohio and he can win where he's leading now in Iowa, and he can win where he's leading now in Wisconsin, if nothing else changed in the map, that's 271, gets the president over the top.
So we're going to watch, Governor Romney is going to try to block the president by keeping Iowa in play. And he needs to keep Ohio in play.
And, Wolf, as we go through this again, the thing I would watch, the thing I would watch over the next couple of days is how do the travel schedules change and watch the TV money. It will go up in some states, down in others. That will tell you where they think the final battle grounds are.
BLITZER: Yes, the point you made about Virginia and Navy ships, that's a huge issue especially in the southern part of Virginia. And the impression, I guess, some Republicans are getting is the president of the United States, John, was comparing Navy ships to, what, horses and bayonets?
KING: Essentially, the point is Governor Romney says you need to build more ships. The president is trying to make the case that technological advances mean you can -- have fewer ships and sarcastically saying, you know, we have this thing called aircraft carriers now, and you land planes on them. There's a -- there's a legitimate debate about the size of the military, how much do you need, how much of it goes into technology, how much of it goes into cyber war. Now there's a huge and legitimate debate about that but life and politics are not fair. You can be certain Governor Romney is going to try to use that one right here in the big Navy state of Virginia.
BLITZER: Yes. Largest naval port in the world, Norfolk. John, thanks very much.
Our expert team of producers, researchers, reporters, they've been very busy trying to figure out whether the candidates were telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in tonight's debate.
John Berman is joining us with a reality check party two -- John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: I want to talk about Russia now, Wolf. On Russia President Obama charged that Mitt Romney has said Russia is our biggest foe, and Romney defended himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: A few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not al Qaeda, you said Russia, in the 1980s or now, calling to ask for their foreign policy back.
ROMNEY: Russia, I indicated is a geopolitical foe. Not a --
OBAMA: Number one --
ROMNEY: Excuse me. Is a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same -- in the same paragraph, I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So what are the facts here? This all came up in an interview with none other than CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Romney said that Russia was the biggest geopolitical foe of the U.S. He also went on to say, when pressed by Wolf, that Iran and North Korea were also big foes. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: This is to Russia. This is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.
BLITZER: Well, you think Russia is a bigger foe right now than, let's say, Iran or China oar North Korea? Is that -- is that what you're suggesting, Governor?
ROMNEY: Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors -- of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough. But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go -- we go to the United Nations and who is it that always stands up for the world's worst actors? It is always Russia, typically with China alongside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So our verdict here is really true on both sides. Romney did call Russia our biggest geopolitical foe. And then when pushed by Wolf, he expanded to include Iran and North Korea, though he said, interestingly enough, that Russia is still standing behind all of them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff and interesting to see. It reminded me of that interview I did with Romney a few months back.
Let's go back to Candy right now -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, thanks. I'm still here with James Carville, Democratic strategist, and Ari Fleischer, and -- I know I don't have to ask a question. He's been leaping out of his seat here to try to get in on this conversation.
What is bothering you?
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What's bothering me --
What's bothering me is this. He's changed one thing what he says. If you want to pick the winner of a beauty contest, don't pick who you think is the prettiest girl, pick who you think the judges believe the prettiest girl is. We're parsing every statement about what does this mean and happen -- this, it was geopolitical mean. The truth of the matter is, people look at these things, who looked presidential, who looked in command? Who looked strong? Who was articulate? Who was coherent? And the answer is all Obama. I mean, this is -- this is not --
CROWLEY: You know the --
CARVILLE: We're getting lost in the weeds. Yes, this was clearly, if you watched this debate, the president looked like the stronger guy. He looked like the guy that had something to say, he looked like the guy that was on the attack, and I'm sorry, I -- after the first debate it was evident to me that the president was not on his game, I said so.
This is as evident as it can be that of all of the things that you look, of all the things people look for in a president, it was all -- went to President Obama. And maybe there was some things in there, it was a strategic thing that might mean something to this part of the country, and that part of the country, or what geopolitical means, but in terms of the overall impressionist debate, I'm sorry, if you're picking on what people are looking at when they see this, I think it's pretty clear that he did very, very well tonight.
CROWLEY: Do you agree with all that, Ari? But we have to go -- no, I'm kidding.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it's hard to see that. I think when you look at the conditions around the world over the last four years and what's happened as Mitt Romney described it with the Arab spring and the -- turmoil that's going on around the world, and how we're in a much more dangerous world than we were four years ago, I don't think that people are going to run to that conclusion.
I think people saw a candidate in Mitt Romney who was presidential, passed the commander-in-chief test, and that's, I think, what Mitt Romney's objective was tonight. But I go back to the bigger issues. How do you win elections? And you win elections based on who appeals to the country more on the economy. And Mitt Romney was able tonight to repeat his core argument against Barack Obama, which is that he's presided over a weak economy for four years and things haven't gotten better, and he tied it to foreign policy.
I think it's impossible for anybody to say that this race is going to move voters. Just as for the second debate.
CROWLEY: This debate.
FLEISCHER: That's right.
CROWLEY: And that there are two questions. The first question is, who won the debate? So let me just ask -- we know James thinks that President Obama won the debate. Would you agree?
FLEISCHER: My point is on a foreign policy debate like this, there is -- there's no one winner or not. You could say that the president won on points, he seemed to be more aggressive than Mitt Romney tonight. I'll concede that point. He was more aggressive. But this is about winning elections and in that sense it's not about who won the debate.
FLEISCHER: That is not the issue.
CROWLEY: And that's the second question. Will this move the race? Which something is going to have to move this race because we're looking at them dead even, I think, in our poll of polls.
FLEISCHER: The course of this race was set after the first debate. That was one of the most powerful debates in American politics, as much as James would like to think that this was the equivalent of the first, not even close. Nothing is going to change the trajectory of this race after that first debate, not the second debate, not the third debate.
CARVILLE: You know, if being strong, if being presidential, if being coherent, if being articulate doesn't move then maybe nothing is going to move it. But he was all of those things tonight. This 90 minutes tonight, if this would have been a Little League baseball game, they would have called the thing after four innings. I mean that's evident to anybody that watched this and I mean, Ari, to give him credit, at least has -- you know, admits that yes, Obama won the debate.
We're talking about the 90 minutes. From 9:00 to 10:30, Eastern Daylight Time, this thing was not close. Maybe the world is messed up, or maybe the deficit is high, and maybe these other things, we can argue that, but we can't argue what happened this 90 minutes.
CROWLEY: We can argue whether do you think it's going to be a major force in moving these numbers.
CARVILLE: I don't know that. That's a -- a fair point. Look, the question is not, did Obama win the debate? He did. The question is, did he win the election tonight, that we don't know, we'll know in a couple of weeks.
CROWLEY: So you all actually sort of agree. You both think that Obama won --
FLEISCHER: I think the president was more feisty tonight. The president down on more jabs tonight, and I think also he had to because he's punching from behind. Given what happened in the first debate. He's been more aggressive in the second and the third. Governor Romney went into this, you can only imagine, with a different agenda. He did not want to be as feisty and as punchy as he was in that first debate.
My sense is, because he wanted to send that signal, especially to women voters, that Mitt Romney is a man that you can trust in the Oval Office as commander-in-chief.
CROWLEY: And that he's not going to bomb things?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think he wanted to suggest that he's thoughtful. That was his approach and I think that's what he delivered on.
CARVILLE: We'll see. I've never believed that you run for -- that you do yourself good running for president looking weak. And I think that Governor Romney looked weak tonight. My view.
CROWLEY: We'll check back in five days. How it moved the polls.
Anderson, I'm going to toss it back to you.
COOPER: Yes, we're waiting the results of our poll that we're going to bring you as soon as we have it. Again, that's really the question. There is the question of who won this debate and then there's a question of what kind of an impact this actually going to have.
But, you know, when James Carville starts quoting Eastern Standard Time, you're in trouble.
When he gets that specific.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know we can know. I don't think we can know. I mean I think that it's very clear that the president won this on points. What was interesting to me was the -- I think the president was very successful in trying to make Mitt Romney look out of date, behind the times, not only on the warship thing, but also on the Russia thing, saying --
COOPER: And we're getting the results of the polls.
BORGER: OK. OK.
COOPER: (INAUDIBLE), Gloria. Let me go to Wolf for that.
BLITZER: All right, Anderson. Thanks very much.
Here we are. We now have the first results of our poll. These are -- this is a poll of registered voters across the country who watched tonight's debate. And we have a verdict on who won. Forty- eight percent say President Obama won, 40 percent say Mitt Romney won. Fifty-nine percent say President Obama did better than expected, 15 percent say he did worse, 23 percent say he did about the same as expected.
As for Mitt Romney, 44 percent say he did better than expected, 26 percent say he did worse, 26 percent say he did about the same as expected.
Remember this is a scientific poll of debate watchers only. We found that a higher percentage of Republicans tend to tune into these debates than Democrats. We're still crunching more numbers, stand by, you're going to find out how the debate influenced people's votes.
And up next, we're going to tell you how debate watchers rated the candidates' abilities as a commander-in-chief -- Anderson?
BLITZER: You and the team over them got something to digest.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, obviously, as we get more of these numbers and we look at them, we'll kind of be able to kind of parse it out a little bit more. But does that surprise you?
KING: Well, the key question is, does it change anybody's vote? Not to use, quote, "the debate winner," because there are people out there, the president won the debate, we think more Republicans are watching, he won our poll, as the winner of the debate. So some Republicans are saying the president had a stronger debate tonight. Many of those Republicans, I suspect, aren't changing their vote.
I think that the tightness here, I thought, would have been a little bigger gap in favor of the president on debate points and on debating style. Style and substance, I think the president won the debate, but this is a reflection of our polarized country. We came into this race, 47-47, a point or two nationally. Most of the battleground states are about the same.
Did anything happen tonight that is going to cause a Democrat to change his mind and vote for Governor Romney? I think not. Did anything happen tonight that's going to cause a committed Republicans to change his mind and vote for President Obama? I think not.
There's a tiny slice in this country of undecided, truly undecided voters left. Are they going to vote on foreign policy? Are they going to vote on the economy? The leadership part of tonight could factor into that. The leadership part, but look, you could be sure the candidates have to adjust on this starting now. What will be on -- new TV ads --
COOPER: And it was interesting to see our focus group early when Soledad asked if this had changed people's minds and if people had now kind of gone on their direction, it seemed like a majority of them raised their hands saying tonight had kind of pushed them toward one direction or the other but they didn't specify.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, there's another poll out of just undecided voters. And there the gap for Obama is much higher. But I think that John is exactly right. There's a very small sliver of people you're looking at. And you can even see the occasional chances that Romney took to distinguish himself. Where it struck me, directed at domestic politics.
So, for instance, Florida, as you say, is very much in play. A lot of Jewish voters there, and Romney decided he would -- you know, on Iran, he was going to take one further step and say that he would indict Ahmadinejad presumably for war crimes. I'm not sure how you can do that because Ahmadinejad has simply said --
COOPER: A speech.
COOPER: It's actually --
ZAKARIA: A speech.
ZAKARIA: But clearly that was a kind of rhetorical flourish directed at a very specific set of voters who he was trying to sway.
BORGER: He also said where -- many times, Iran is four years closer to a nuclear weapon. I mean he just repeated that over and over again. Obviously Florida very much in play.
COOPER: And then President Obama, though, had some very specific things about where he went into Israel, in the Yad Vashem, and in a particular town he went to where Hezbollah rockets had landed.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One of his best moments. When he actually got angry out there a couple of times, I thought he was -- Obama was at his best. I think what we saw tonight was Obama came in, slightly favored to win the president, I think he comes out of this a little stronger to win the presidency.
He -- that poll -- I agree with John, I thought it would be a bigger split. I think what that poll suggests, given the composition of who's in the poll, is that the president had a clear victory tonight but -- it wasn't a blowout. It wasn't an overwhelming win.
But I want to disagree with James Carville about this question about, it's only who's the most -- the strongest, who's the most aggressive that's the most appealing at a debate. I don't -- I think had Romney done that tonight, I think he would have hurt himself. I think what he has to do is to be a comfortable person. Everybody knows he's -- they saw him in that first debate being strong and aggressive, but they want to make sure is he's not a bomb thrower.
ZAKARIA: You've got the legacy -- and you've got the legacy of the last Republican president.
GERGEN: Exactly. Exactly right.
ZAKARIA: This is what -- what Romney was trying to say is I am not George W. Bush, I'm not going to get you into another war.
ZAKARIA: I'm not going to --
BORGER: But he didn't seem quite comfortable to me.
GERGEN: I thought he was comfortable enough.
BORGER: You know? I think -- I just think there were times --
GERGEN: I think the question is --
COOPER: You didn't mind the sweat?
GERGEN: I didn't -- I think --
COOPER: We got -- we got to take a quick break. I should point out, we are the only cable network with a scientific poll like this. We're awaiting more results of our poll of tonight's debate watchers. We'll tell you if the debate influenced people's votes. That's really the most crucial question and also how it may have influenced people's votes if it did. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We have more results coming in from our poll of registered voters who actually watched tonight's debate on foreign policy. We asked, can President Obama handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief? Look at this. Sixty-three percent said yes, 36 percent said no.
We asked the same question about Governor Romney, 60 percent said he could handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief, 38 percent said he can't. About the same numbers for both of these candidates.
Remember, this is a scientific poll of debate watchers only. We've seen over the course of these debates that a higher percentage of Republicans tune in than Democrats. We have more poll numbers coming up. Debate watchers will tell us which candidate spent more time on the attack and how this face-off influence their all-important vote -- Anderson.
COOPER: Let's talk about this with our contributors, Alex Castellanos, also former special advisor to the president, Van Jones.
Interesting what was not discussed tonight, you pointed out, Benghazi. I don't even think the word Benghazi was used.
VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: Very lightly. And right away from it. And I think that's very interesting. If you watched all day long on TV, it was Benghazi, Benghazi, trying to make the president -- diminish the president's leadership standing by -- from my point of view -- politicizing a tragedy. And when it was time for him to sit down and be the commander-in-chief, Romney, he made a different decision.
And I think that's important, because I think for most Americans you see a tragedy like this, I knew Ambassador Stevens, his parents have asked, please stop politicizing this, I hope this then gets moved out where it should be. Back into the investigation stage and let's talk about real issues. I was glad that Romney did not continue politicizing this tragedy in this country.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, I would have thought it interesting to have a debate tonight on a legitimate issue worthy of discussion, which is why was an American ambassador in a dangerous place left unprotected on 9/11? Isn't that the president's responsibility? And why did this president continue to blame a movie for two weeks?
JONES: It was not working apparently. Apparently in the mind of the -- of your nominee, this kind of attack is not worthy of a president. It's not worthy of this country.
CASTELLANOS: Well, that was a decision --
JONES: And I applaud him for -- and I applaud the president for his job in freeing Libya.
JONES: Let's not forget --
CASTELLANOS: You're agreeing with Romney too much.
JONES: Let's not --
COOPER: We're getting -- we've got some more, some more information on our poll, and also some fact-checking. Let's go to Wolf for that.
BLITZER: All right, Anderson. Thank you. Our expert team of producers, researchers, reporters, they've been busy trying to figure out whether the candidates were telling the truth in tonight's debate. John Berman is ready with another reality check -- John.
BERMAN: Hey, Wolf. President Obama was bragging about certain policy success in Libya. He said the U.S. helped oust Gadhafi at a fraction of the cost of the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We were able to, without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years. Got rid of a despot who had killed Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So what are the facts here? The total cost for the first five years of the war in Iraq was $646 billion, which breaks down to about $700 million for two weeks which is less than the $896 million the U.S. spent on military intervention in Libya. So our verdict here is false on the math. Obama was right that Libya is cheap compared to Iraq overall, but he exaggerated by about $200 million when he compared it to about two weeks in Iraq.
We want to move on to the apology tour that's been a favorite line from the Republicans on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney claimed as he has many times in the past that President Obama went on an international tour apologizing for U.S. policy when he took office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: He said he'd meet with all the world's worst actors in his first year. He'd sit down with Chavez and Kim Jong-Il, with Castro, and with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. And I think they looked and thought, well, that's an unusual honor to receive from the president of the United States. And then the president began what I've called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America.
I think they looked at that and saw weakness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So what are the facts here? When the president took office, he did travel to several countries talking about American foreign policy. In France, for example, he said America has shown arrogance and had been dismissive, even derisive. Though he also criticized Europe in that very same speech. And in none of these speeches, none of them, in Europe or the Middle East, or here at home, did President Obama used the word apology or say he's sorry.
So our verdict here is it is false to call the president's speeches an apology tour even if he was critical of past U.S. foreign policy. He issued no apologies -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John, thank you.
Both candidates say they'll keep Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Tom Foreman is standing by with another reality check -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, both candidates came in tonight knowing that Iran is one of the biggest issues out there, Iran's nuclear ambitions and that it's been a big issue since the first day Barack Obama took office. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history. The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that, during the course of this campaign, he's often talked as if we should take premature military action. I think that would be a mistake.
ROMNEY: I think from the very beginning one of the challenges we've had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be. I think they saw weakness and I think that when the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: They agree on many points here, each man says Iran will not get a nuke on my watch, each says economic sanctions are an important tool. Each one allows how a military strike might be necessary to stop Iran's nuclear program. But they do not agree on where you put the emphasis in this equation. And that has led each to suggest for months now that my opponent is being reckless with Iran.
Let's talk about the two extremes we're talking about here starting with the military option. And to do that, what we brought in here is a life sized virtual model of a Shahab-3 missile. We did this because we want you to see just what size these things are and how portable they are, and how easily one could be hidden in a bunker or, say, the hold of a ship.
We know they're reasonably accurate, reasonably reliable. We know Iran has a lot of them. And we know that they're powerful enough to carry a small nuclear weapon in that nose cone right up there. So if they get a nuclear weapon, Iran would have the ability to deliver it.
Not the United States. Not even to Europe, really, except to the fringes, but it would reach all of the Middle East and it would certainly have the range to strike the American ally, Israel, over there.
Iran says it has no designs of developing a nuclear bomb, it does not want to strike Israel, and yet it is widely believed that Israel does have a contingency plan for striking Iran's nuclear production facilities to try to stop this if need be.
The danger? No one knows if it would really work. And if it didn't work, Iran would not only still have a nuclear program, it would then have the pretext for saying it needed it because it had been attacked.
But when Mitt Romney talks about strength, even though he was threading lightly tonight, that's what he's talking about. He's talking about the notion that the president has to make it very, very clear that America will stand with Israel if such an assault happens -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tom, as you noted, the White House has said it will stand by Israel, but officials have clearly downplayed the idea of military intervention. What's going on here?
FOREMAN: Yes, the White House has preferred not to talk about the military than to talk much more about the idea of sanctions. To not rattle the sword but to rattle the piggybank. What they're talking about is the rial. This is the currency of Iran. And since sanctions have been put in place by the United States and other countries, look what's happened in the past year. It used to be 12,500 rials to the U.S. dollar. That has dropped and dropped and dropped in value so much that now it's 35,000 to the U.S. dollar.
Many imported products like red meat in Iran are now twice, twice as expensive as they were one year ago. What has that done. The idea is that that creates economic and social and political pressure on the leaders of Iran so that they have to negotiate about that nuclear program. They have to be willing to say, we'll give up some of that if you'll let up on these sanctions a little bit.
So that brings us back to our basic claim here. The danger of all of that is what if they keep saying, we'll negotiate here, but they're secretly building up a weapon over there? Who's being reckless about all of this? The simple truth is we have to give this a rating of incomplete, because nobody really knows until this story plays out.
Only when Iran either gives up its nuclear program or announces it has a bomb will we know who was reckless and who was right -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tom, thank you.
All right, let's find out how the candidates came across to debate watchers. We have more results coming in now from our post- debate poll.
We asked, who seemed to be a stronger leader? Look at this, 51 percent said President Obama, compared to 46 percent for Governor Romney.
We asked, who was more likeable? Forty-eight percent said President Obama, 47 percent said Governor Romney.
We asked, who spent more time attacking his opponent? Sixty- eight percent said President Obama compared to 21 percent who said governor Romney.
Very interesting numbers. Let's go back to Candy -- Candy.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Wolf. Still here with James Carville and Ari Fleischer.
So some of these numbers actually are good for Governor Romney because it isn't just who won, who showed leadership, very close --
FLEISCHER: This is what I was trying to explain to James a little while back.
CROWLEY: Explain away.
FLEISCHER: Here's how I think you have to look at all three together. I think that in the first debate Mitt Romney scored six runs in the first three innings. The second debate, President Obama scored a run. Tonight he scored a run. He lost 6 to 2.
This is the trajectory of campaign. And that's why I was saying when the debate ended that maybe Mitt Romney got beat by the president on the president being more feisty. But when it comes to voter behavior, I don't think this debate changed a thing. The trajectory of the race, as your internal CNN polls are now starting to show, it's unchanged. Numbers like that don't move a thing.
CROWLEY: So let me -- before you answer, because you wanted to also talk to David Gergen. It's been so long I forgot what David said but --
CARVILLE: I've said that I thought that the president was more articulate, was more coherent and more presidential. I think those things matter. I think -- and I think that clearly everybody agrees with the president on this debate. The CNN poll agrees with that. Traditionally the CNN poll has been eight points more Republican than the electorate have. I don't know what the case is tonight. They haven't shared their numbers as to what their party I.D. was going into this.
That would be interesting because if he won by eight points in a sample that was eight points more Republican than the electorate, then that would probably be a much more significant victory for the president. They have not shared the numbers with us yet. I'd be curious to see what they are. The country is 7 percent -- generally 7 percent more Democratic in terms of self-identified party I.D.
CROWLEY: More -- yes, more Republicans watch these debates than the Democrats, which is why --
CARVILLE: Right. Right, which is going to lead you to a skewed result. Because a -- because the sample is significantly more Republican than the general election is. And even at that 48 to 40 said the president won the debate. It is clear that he did. I don't know what we'd argue about. We can argue about its political effect.
CROWLEY: I'm not -- I would never argue with you. You know what.
CARVILLE: And we'll know -- and we'll know the answer to the political effects.
CROWLEY: I've got to -- I've got to cut us off here and send us back to Anderson. He can figure out -- I'm going to let you crunch the numbers, Anderson.
COOPER: I'll get right on that during a commercial break.
I should point out also for all military history buffs as I am, and James Carville is a former Marine, the Marines still do use bayonets, just in case you're interested. The Army, I think, discontinued them in 2010 as part of their basic training. But Marines still train with them, in basic training and use them quite effectively, I should point out.
Still ahead, the big question of the night, did the debate influence people's votes? We'll have more poll numbers on that. And we'll see what our focus group of uncommitted Florida voters though where the candidates' best and worst moments of the night.
BLITZER: Let's look at how our focus group of undecided Florida voters responded to the candidates tonight. We measured their reaction as they listened to the president and Governor Romney. The green light represents men, the yellow line represents the women.
Here's President Obama's best moment of the night, according to this focus group. It happened at around 9:15 p.m. Eastern. The candidates were discussing the war in Iraq and whether or not the United States right now has the right number of troops in the country. The U.S. has no troops left in the country after failing to reach a status of forces agreement with Iraq. There are a few Marines guarding the U.S. embassy. That's it.
Listen to the president talk about the status of the situation in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The other thing that we have to do is recognize that we can't continue to do nation building in these regions. Part of American leadership is making sure that we're doing nation building here at home. That will help us maintain the kind of American leadership that we need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was the president's high point. Now let's take a look at Mitt Romney's best moment. He peaked at around 9:48 p.m. Eastern, more than half way through the debate. Bob Schieffer, the moderator, asked the candidates if an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on the United States. Governor Romney said yes, and went on to explain how he would avoid that scenario all together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I'd have put them in place earlier, but it's good that we have them. Number two, something I would add today is, I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can't come in to our ports. I imagine the EU would agree with us as well. Not only ships couldn't, I'd say companies that are moving their oil can't, people who are trading in their oil can't. I would tighten those sanctions further.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was Mitt Romney's highest point. Let's go to the focus group.
Soledad O'Brien has been watching them, listening to them -- Soledad.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: You know, Ernie Hull who is up here on the top left side from where I am said that he really felt that what Mitt Romney said about avoiding an attack upon Israel really resonated with him.
Tell me why you thought that was a high moment for you.
ERNIE HULL, FLORIDA VOTER: I felt like our support of Israel has been rather not clear over the past four years and that Romney was very forceful in addressing his support of Israel.
O'BRIEN: In fact, we saw, Wolf, many times whenever the candidates got negative, we saw immediately the dial testers go down, whenever they were speaking affirmatively and strongly, you could see that the dial testers for both men and women would go up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Soledad. Stand by, let's take a look right now at the low points for the debate for both President Obama and Governor Romney. We'll begin with the president's low point. It came at around 9:54 Eastern after Governor Romney accused the president of being weak on foreign policy and taking a so-called apology tour across the Middle East. The president pushed back and the focus group didn't appreciate his tone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Nothing Governor Romney just said is true. Starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was the president's lowest moment according to this focus group in Orlando. Governor Romney's low point happened much earlier at 9:39 p.m. Eastern. The moderator, Bob Schieffer, asked Governor Romney where he would get the money to pay for a bigger military. Romney talked about cutting domestic spending programs. Women in particular did not like this answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Come on our Web site, you'll look at how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years, we do it by getting -- by reducing spending on a whole series of programs. By the way, number one I get rid of is Obamacare. There are a number of things that sound good, but frankly we just can't afford them. And that one doesn't sound good and it's not affordable. So I'd get rid of that one from day one, to the extent humanly possible we get that out.
We take program after program that we don't absolutely have to have and we -- get rid of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go back to Soledad.
Soledad, what did you make of that?
O'BRIEN: In fact, Wolf -- yes, you know, we saw a very big gender gap this time around. I've been doing focus groups for a while for CNN, and this time around we saw a huge gender gap, especially when questions were about education, about domestic spending. And also about that 9/11 story.
Jennifer Dukowski (ph) is at the end down there.
You were very moved when the president was talking about that girl who was 4 years old during 9/11 and she talked about how relieved she was when Osama bin Laden was killed. Tell me a little bit about why that was moving for you.
JENNIFER DUKOWSKI, FLORIDA VOTER: Well, I'm from the New York area. And I was actually -- the day of 9/11, everybody started calling me because my father worked underneath the World Trade Center, so it brought back memories of me thinking, oh, my god, my dad, what's going on with my dad, because we had no idea of what was going on. So when she talked about -- when he talked about that, it just brought back that memory.
Now that my dad is no longer with us. He wasn't -- he's looking down on us saying, OK, we got him. And that is a victory for us. So it just reminded me of, you know, what a blessing is still and that we can still celebrate these people's lives that lost their lives for something that was totally unnecessary.
O'BRIEN: I know that tone was very important to the folks in the focus group. We could see it, we were watching the squiggles, and as soon as the tone got a little bit edgy, or even a lot sort of edgy, all of a sudden, everyone would dial down.
How important was tone for you, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, substance is always more important, but I can understand how frustration can take over someone's point of view from time to time. When a jab is sitting there, they get a chance to throw it, they do. But when they do stick to substance, we learn more and it makes us a better informed electorate.
O'BRIEN: There were some moments where people were laughing out loud. We saw when they tried to do the strong shift to talk about education and not really talk about foreign policy.
Do those moments resonate with you? Is that important for you or is that something that doesn't stick in terms of how you judge who won or lost?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it's important to me. I mean, you know, it gives me a different perspective on things. Because nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal. So yes, it does make -- it makes a difference in things.
O'BRIEN: All right, Wolf, and we'll send it back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Very interesting stuff. Thanks, Soledad, very much. We'll get back to you.
We're also standing by for the final numbers from our poll of debate watchers. You're going to find out if people's votes were influenced by what they heard tonight.
Also, you'll be able to watch the debate again in its entirety. That's coming up later.
BLITZER: We have the final results just in from our scientific poll of registered voters who actually watched tonight's debate. We gave you the headline a little while ago, 48 percent say President Obama won, compared to 40 percent who say Governor Romney won.
Here's the question. Will that change any votes? Look at these new numbers just in. We asked who did the debate make you more likely to vote for? Twenty-four percent said President Obama, 25 percent said Governor Romney. Fifty percent basically said neither -- Anderson.
COOPER: Just a sign of how divided things are. At this point, we want to talk about that with our panelists in a just moment. But first, let's go back to Candy at the debate hall.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Anderson. We've been sort of chewing over a couple of things that were surprising to us in the debate. And the first was, that Mitt Romney had a clear shot at Libya and Benghazi, who didn't give security when security had been so clearly asked for in those State Department cables.
CROWLEY: And he didn't take it. Why?
FLEISCHER: I was surprised. I thought he would and I don't know if it was because there was intelligence information that he was briefed on that made him draw back, or if it was just this overall tone that he wanted to establish tonight, was to be much more presidential, rise above, and not try to get into a tit-for-tat on every issue. But it sure did come as a surprise to me. I expected he would have made more of that issue.
CROWLEY: And one of the things, I think, we're seeing in those last numbers, James, is that -- we might have reached the point of diminishing returns on these debates simply because 50 percent said it doesn't make any difference and about even as to who -- did it make you more likely to vote for President Obama or for Mitt Romney.
So what changes these poll numbers now?
CARVILLE: Well, I don't -- I'm not sure that they're going to change a whole lot. I think we're going into a pretty close election. I think the president is up a couple of points. Maybe Ari disagrees, we can argue about that. But it's somewhere going to be close. And I suspect that nothing is going to, like, fundamentally change on election day. But if somebody gets a point or a point and a half in a race like this, this is going to become an enormous change. I mean little things, you know, echo out the big things, and it's -- you know, and generally it's a kind of a change in mood or people from one party tend to get a little more fired up about the way that the candidate did or didn't do.
I think -- I think it's going to be interesting to see over the next four days what happens. I don't -- no one believes it's going to be like a drastic change in the numbers. But little changes mean a lot.
CROWLEY: Right. We have GDP coming up.
FLEISCHER: There's one thing that (INAUDIBLE) event coming up and -- right, Candy, exactly.
CROWLEY: And we've got unemployment numbers coming up.
FLEISCHER: On Friday this week, we'll get the snapshot of how the economy grew.
FLEISCHER: That could be big.
CROWLEY: That could be important. Yes, one of the things that we were talking about also was how often Israel came up.
FLEISCHER: Yes, I got a tweet from a reporter at a newspaper, an Israeli paper, that said Israel was mentioned 34 times tonight. I think President Obama mentioned it 33.
CROWLEY: Here in Florida.
FLEISCHER: He really wanted to make sure that he didn't have a problem with Israel because I think he's been on the defensive over that issue and whether or not he supports Israel strongly or he's trying to put distance between himself and Israel.
Mitt Romney hit those points. President Obama won first and tried to preempt those points. The issue here is whether Republicans can get -- Mitt Romney can get between 25 and 30 percent of the Jewish vote. It's fascinating, if Republicans lose the Jewish vote 4-1, it's a big setback. If they lose it 3-1, it's a huge victory.
CROWLEY: Right. And these little things -- I think you're right. It's like everything matters now. Everything matters.
CARVILLE: Yes, right now. We've gone down to -- you know, the margins of count now. It's -- the big picture is not going to change between now and election day.
CROWLEY: Yes. Exactly. James Carville, Ari Fleischer, thanks.
Anderson, I think it's back to you.
COOPER: Candy, thanks very much. It is fascinating just having watched the president these last two debates. It just makes you wonder all the more about that first debate. Just what happened? I mean where was the president in that first debate, given the kind of radical change in the second and third one?
BORGER: I think he was sitting on a lead? I mean he was sort of risk averse, he was up ahead in the polls, and he didn't want to -- you know, he didn't want to take any chances. And so he was kind of absent. So he came out swinging and he came out swinging again tonight. And I think -- I think it worked for him. But he also tried to make the point that Mitt Romney was reckless, was a -- was a phrase he used. And what Mitt Romney, the trap he did not walk into this evening was to appear bellicose, reckless on foreign policy.
And I think they were very, very careful about that because this country doesn't want to go to war again. And he was trying to appeal to that slice, that tinny little slice of voters who are out there who are still undecided.
COOPER: But there are some people who will those -- our poll results and say, look, that poll just seems skewed. The president seemed to -- they say the president won the debate and yet it didn't really seem to change anybody's vote?
KING: And we should be careful about all these polls. These are polls just of debate watchers and as Wolf noted, we've had more Republicans seem to be watching the debate. So this is not like a poll of all Americans, wait 48, 72 hours, you'll get a sense of whether this changes the fundaments in the race now.
But if you take our polls for what they're worth, the president won. By debate viewers scored him as the winner of the last two debates. He may wish that he had won the first debate because that is the one at least so far. We'll see if it happens with this one.
The first one changed the fundamentals of the race. He was on a path to win at that point. And Governor Romney was the issue in the campaign. After the first debate, the incumbent president became the issue in the campaign. And if the election were today, the president would probably get a narrow victory.
But after three debates, the trend line is moving Governor Romney's way. In all nine tossup states, Governor Romney was in a stronger position this morning that he was the day before the first debate. And we have two weeks to election. Now the movement Romney's way is now slow, but it's still moving Romney's way. It keeps moving Romney's way, even at the slow pace it is right now, he will be the next president of the United States.
COOPER: Is there any possibility of changing that on the national --
COOPER: I mean this debate was one clear way, but now they're going state by state.
GERGEN: But I think what's really interesting. We've all talked about the first debate. The second debate, the president clearly won, and yet people came out saying, Romney would do a better job handling the economy. Tonight the president won again, and yet I think the polls suggest, given the composition of the poll, I think the poll clearly suggests that Romney came out and passed the commander-in- chief test.
What is also striking, though, is that neither the second nor the third debate has in the early hours at least seemed to have changes the race. Our own poll -- again taking into account the composition -- suggests it hasn't changed very much. Then earlier tonight said intrigue spiked up to 80 where there was an 80 percent chance of Obama winning.
I would point out that for the debate intrigue was at 64 Obama, it spiked and then it ended up tonight at 61. It basically no change.
ZAKARIA: Well, I wonder whether if you're looking for change, and you know, these are all small issues because the race is so evenly divided. The most important thing that may have happened in the next two or three weeks is that housing in America has begun to recover.
Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, said it two weeks ago, that he thought the housing recovery was so strong. And remember, JPMorgan Chase has a lot of -- mortgages they take a look at. That the Fed -- the Federal Reserve might actually raise interest rates next year because economic growth is so strong. If that happens, then this is the election to win because whoever presides over it will be -- it will be Romney's recovery or Obama's recovery.
COOPER: We've got another reality check ahead from our Tom Foreman on what the candidates said about getting tougher with China. And we'll see what buzz words from the debate are now trending on Facebook. We'll be right back.