Already four 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).
On Monday night, Obama said more than once that Romney had been “all over the map” with his positions. And not necessarily putting new distance between the two men. In fact, Romney offered rare praise for the administration’s war efforts in Afghanistan.
The former Massachusetts governor said the 2010 surge of 33,000 U.S. troops was a success and asserted that efforts to train Afghan security forces are on track to enable the U.S. and its allies to put the Afghans fully in charge of security by the end of 2014. He said that U.S. forces should complete their withdrawal on that schedule; previously he has criticized the setting of a specific withdrawal date.
When it came to Iran, Romney stressed that war is a last option to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, softening the hawkish tone that had been a hallmark of his campaign.
And Romney barely addressed the simmering dispute over the administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
But the debate was hardly all sweetness and light.
On the Middle East, Romney said that despite early hopes, the ouster of despotic regimes in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere over the past year has resulted in a “rising tide of chaos.” He said the president has failed to come up with a coherent policy to grapple with change sweeping the region, and he added ominously that an al-Qaida-like group has taken over northern Mali.