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Residents watch last debate

President Obama, Romney face off with two weeks until Election Day

Posted: October 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Valencia High School seniors Collin Stell, left, and Rebecca Sebel watch the presidential debate at the Santa Clarita Valley Republican headquarters on Monday. (Jonathan Pobre/The Signal)

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Politically attuned Santa Clarita Valley residents watched presidential candidates spar in the final campaign debate Monday night.

President Barack Obama sharply challenged Mitt Romney on foreign policy in their debate, accusing him of “wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.” The Republican coolly responded, “Attacking me is not an agenda” for dealing with a dangerous world.

“I think Obama is avoiding the questions that are being asked,” said Collin Stell, a Valencia High School senior, at the Santa Clarita Republicans headquarters. “So far, I think (Romney)’s doing a good job. He’s answering the questions a little more thoroughly.”

Across the political spectrum in the Santa Clarita Valley, Leticia Aranda, of Valencia, watched the debate at the Democratic Alliance for Action Headquarters.

“I think President Obama is coming across strong and clear,” Aranda said. “Gov. Romney is definitely coming second for me.”

With just 15 days remaining in an impossibly close race for the White House, Romney took the offensive, too. When Obama said the U.S. and its allies have imposed crippling sanctions on Iran to halt nuclear weapons development, the Republican challenger responded that the U.S. should have done more. He declared repeatedly, “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran.”

Though their third and last face-to-face debate was focused on foreign affairs, both men reprised their campaignlong disagreements over the U.S. economy — the top issue by far in opinion polls — as well as energy, education and other domestic issues.

The two men did find accord on more than one occasion when it came to foreign policy.

Each stressed unequivocal support for Israel when asked about a U.S. response if the Jewish state were attacked by Iran.

“If Israel is attacked, we have their back,” said Romney — moments after Obama vowed, “I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked.”

Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the efforts to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.

The debate produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked the presidential rivals’ debate last week, when Obama needed a comeback after a listless performance in their first meeting on Oct. 3.

The final debate behind them, both men are embarking on a home-stretch whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already 4 million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes. The battlegrounds account for the remaining 110 electoral votes: Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).

Whatever the outcome of the final face-to-face confrontation, the debates have left an imprint on the race. Romney was widely judged the winner of the first debate over a listless president on Oct. 3, and he has risen in polls in the days since. Obama was much more energetic in the second.

Monday night marked the third time in less than a week that the president and his challenger shared a stage, following the feisty 90-minute town-hall-style meeting last Tuesday on Long Island and a white-tie charity dinner two nights later where gracious compliments flowed and barbs dipped in humor flew.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

jpobre@the-signal.com

661-287-5531

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