WASHINGTON (AP) — With one debate left, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are retreating from the campaign trail to bone up on foreign policy, leaving the work of courting voters to their running mates.
Monday’s debate in Boca Raton, Fla., with its focus on international affairs, is the third and final between the two rivals and comes just 15 days before the election.
Obama left Friday for Camp David, the presidential hideaway in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. He was to remain there with advisers until Monday morning. Romney was to spend the weekend in Florida with aides preparing the debate.
Romney running mate Paul Ryan planned a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden was headed for St. Augustine, Fla.
Monday’s 90-minute debate will be moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. It will be similar to the first debate, with both men standing at lecterns on a stage. Schieffer has listed five subject areas, with more time devoted to the Middle East and terrorism than any other topic.
While the economy has been the dominant theme of the election, foreign policy has attracted renewed media attention in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Obama had ranked well with the public on his handling of international issues and in fighting terrorism, especially following the death of Osama bin Laden. But the administration’s response to the Libya attack and questions over levels of security at the consulate have given Romney and his Republican allies an issue with which to raise doubts about Obama’s foreign policy leadership.
Ryan accused Obama of stonewalling, telling Milwaukee radio station WTMJ on Friday that the president was refusing to answer even basic questions. “His response has been inconsistent, it’s been misleading,” Ryan said.
Obama stuck with domestic policy themes Friday, accusing Romney of moderating his stands and conveniently forgetting his past positions on economic and women’s issues. He coined a new campaign term for his rival: “Romnesia.”
Romney has spent large amounts of time off the campaign trail to prepare for the upcoming foreign policy debate. Aides say the additional time preparing is well-spent even if it comes at the expense of public events.
Meanwhile, the ad wars intensified even more with the release of new TV spots for both sides.
Romney’s latest ad criticizes the president’s policies on debt, health care, taxes, energy and Medicare. It echoes the argument Romney has made in the campaign’s final month: The country cannot afford four more years of Obama in a number of areas, not just the economy. The campaign did not say where the spot would air.
And an independent group supporting Obama said it would begin airing ads that draw renewed attention to Romney’s tenure at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital. The group, Priorities USA Action, is redoubling its efforts against Romney, re-airing an ad about an AMPAD plant in Marion, Ind. That spot features former employee Mike Earnest recalling being told to build a stage from which officials of the office supply company later announced mass layoffs.
He says, “It was like building my own coffin.” That ad first aired in battleground states in the summer.
Romney aides have said AMPAD was in a struggling business to begin with, and Bain overall created many more jobs than were lost.
That ad will air in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin. The new campaign will be in addition to a $30 million effort against Romney policy proposals, the group said.
Associated Press writer Kasie Hunt contributed to this report.