BOCA RATON, Fl — It was the final one. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney went toe to toe on the last debate here at Lynn University, the last chance the two candidates had to appear together on stage in this neck-and-neck race and convince voters they should be the next president. Latino political analysts say on this one, President Obama benefited from the ‘incumbent advantage.’
“Like in past presidential debates, the foreign policy format benefits the incumbent President, and President Obama reminded the audience he was Commander-in-Chief,” said Matt Barreto, who teaches political science at the University of Washington and is a principal in the polling firm Latino Decisions. “Romney has no foreign policy experience, so he didn’t have the comfort level, and a grasp of the issues the way Obama could talk about them,” he added.
Northern Arizona University political science professor and NBC Latino contributor Stephen Nuno agrees. “Obama clearly came out on top, he has the knowledge to explain the context of the decisions he’s made, whereas Governor Romney could only speak more in generalizations,” Nuno added.
The issues of Latin American relations and immigration were not topics brought up by moderator Bob Schieffer from CBS.
After the debate, Juntos Con Romney co-chair Hector Barreto said, “I was very gratified that it was Mitt Romney who brought up Latin America, who talked of doing more trade with the region, and was the one who said we have issues in Venezuela, we have issues in Cuba.” He also said Romney “made the case” to Latino voters that he would represent their interests.
But Dan Restrepo, an Obama campaign spokesperson who was the administration’s top Latin America advisor, fired back. “Look, two passing references to Latin America in a debate does not change the fundamentals of the President’s record on Latin America, no president has visited the region more times, in his first four years in office, exports are up more than 50 percent, we have new free trade agreements with Colombia, and Panama, and all of that is a function of his leadership,” said Restrepo.
One of the candidates’ primary clashes came on whether to reduce funding for the military, and how. Governor Romney criticized President Obama for reducing the budget and size of the Navy to its lowest levels, which in turn prompted Obama to ridicule Romney, saying there are fewer “horses and bayonets” because the nature of the military has changed. In the spin room tonight, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said it was “unfortunate and ridiculous” for Obama to make that comparison. Rubio added Romney’s job was to lay out what he would do differently if he were elected President, “and he clearly did this,” according to Rubio.
Obama for America spokesperson Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico‘s Resident Commissioner, said Romney was “ambiguous and vacillating, and at times embraced and coincided with President Obama’s politics.” Obama made a clear point that the U.S. is stronger “when its fiscal house is in order, and when we invest in education, and growing our economy here,” he added.
Florida Republican State Senator Anitere Flores said Governor Romney “did a really great job of laying down his vision of a stronger America. We can’t afford going down the path where we’ve been.”
With two weeks to go, Latinos in both campaigns say they will be working nonstop until November 6th. National polls consistently put Obama at a strong advantage over Romney among Hispanics, but turnout matters, and both campaigns say they will be working to the bitter end.