If a person without a knowledge of the election issues or about either candidate had parachuted into the audience during last night's presidential debate he might have thought that Mitt Romney was the president and Barack Obama the challenger.

For the second straight debate it appeared Obama was more the aggressor, trying to reverse the momentum train which Romney has been riding since that first debate beat down. At this stage of the campaign both candidates have their talking points down to a point where not even the president requires his trusty teleprompter. Therefore, style and demeanor carried a lot of weight in last night's final face off.

In both style and tactics, Romney scored well. He was smooth, knowledgeable and unflinching, qualities which voters look for in a Commander in Chief.

He avoided being dragged into a fight several times, which left him looking more presidential and in control. The fact that Romney didn't go on the attack on the administration's mishandling of the Libyan attack on Sept. 11 proved that the governor's strategy was to avoid the kind of brawl we saw in the second debate. He instead concentrated on showing voters the big picture in foreign policy.

Romney was adept at working the economy into his answers. He easily explained how a strong U.S. economy is in itself can be a weapon since it allows us to deal with countries like Iran and China from a position of strength, not weakness.

Romney's claim that the role of the U.S. has gone down on the global stage under the Obama administration is backed by the Pew Research Center, which shows that the world's positive-negative views of the United States have been declining.

Regarding Israel, our most strategic ally in the Middle East, Obama bragged that a joint training operation was just launched and that we've created "the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history."

But that doesn't explain why Obama declined a face-to-face meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu last month when the Israeli leader visited the U.S. The White House cited "scheduling conflicts" at the time, which translates to political campaigning. Obama deciding his re-election was more important than discussing the Iran nuclear threat with the leader of Israel.

Obama's most sarcastic remark last night came in response to a Romney comment about increasing military spending. Romney stated that the Navy was "smaller now than at any time since 1917" and that the Air Force "is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947."

"Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed," Obama mocked. "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

One U.S. Marine quickly tweeted that Marines still use the bayonet.

Speaking of online social networking, a total of 6.5 million tweets were logged during this final face off, compared to the 10 million that the first debate generated.

Moderator Bob Schieffer closed the debate with a quote which he attributed to his mother: "Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong."

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com