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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Candidates Spar On Foreign Policy; Obama Has Edge In Final Debate;

Aired October 23, 2012 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Last words.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I congratulate him on taking out Osama Bin Laden, but we can't kill our way out of this mess.

SAMBOLIN: With two weeks to go and with the race scary close, President Obama and Mitt Romney stare each other down one last time and take their parting shots.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.

ROMNEY: I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin. After the election, he'll get more backbone.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): From rose glasses to red lines to red ink. Did Mitt Romney gain any red states?

ROMNEY: Attacking me is not an agenda.

SAMBOLIN: Or did President Obama zing his way to a win.

OBAMA: So the question is not a game of battleship.

SAMBOLIN: We go to the scorecards on a special EARLY START.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east.

Up first, President Obama and Mitt Romney in their final face-off before America votes, and by most accounts, it was a more forceful President Obama who came out ahead last night.

BERMAN: The majority of viewers and political pundits agreeing Romney was playing defense for much of this foreign policy face-off and a CNN/ORC poll of people who watched this third and final debate shows that 48 percent favored President Obama with 40 percent saying Mitt Romney won the debate.

The President is now two for three in these showdowns. He also won the second debate by seven points after taking a 42-point drubbing in debate number one. That might have been the important one. Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is live from Boca Raton this morning. Hi, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, John. You know, it is already very clear that debates matter a lot. All you have to do is look at how Mitt Romney was able to come back in the polls across the country after he did so well in the first debate.

This one was a little bit more tricky for the candidates, though, because it was on foreign policy, which is not high on the voters' priority list. So both candidates really try to make it a question of leadership especially the President.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Mitt Romney came wanting voters to see him as Commander-in-Chief. The Commander-in-Chief came determined to make sure that didn't happen.

OBAMA: I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy. But, every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong.

BASH: Time and time again, the President's harsh criticism dripped with sarcasm.

OBAMA: A few months ago when you were asked who's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not al Qaeda. You said Russia. The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the cold war's been over for 20 years.

ROMNEY: Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285.

OBAMA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example. We have fewer ships than we did in 1916.

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

BASH: Before the debate, Romney advisers told CNN he would not be the scrappy candidate we saw in the last one. Instead, stay solid, and steady. Not take the President's bait

ROMNEY: And attacking me is not an agenda.

BASH: Romney repeatedly blamed the President for failing to lead on global hot spots. ROMNEY: You look at the record of the last four years and say, is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is -- is al Qaeda on the run on its heels? No. It is -- are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No.

BASH: But for the most part, Romney was calm in demeanor and remarkably agreeable on policy from Syria to Egypt to Afghanistan.

ROMNEY: We're going to be finished by 2014 and when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.

BASH: In fact, the Republican who Democrats try to paint as a war monger used the opening minutes to position himself as a peacemaker.

ROMNEY: I congratulate him on taking out Osama Bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda. But we can't kill our way out of this mess.

BASH: Romney successfully got under the President's skin by repeating this allegation.

ROMNEY: And then the President began what I've called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they look at that and saw weakness.

OBAMA: Nothing Governor Romney just said is true. Starting with this notion of me apologizing, this has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign.

BASH: One of the most fiery exchanges was not about foreign policy, but rather something decidedly American, the U.S. auto industry.

OBAMA: If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry we'd be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.

ROMNEY: I'm a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry. I said they need -- these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy. Fortunately, the President --

OBAMA: That's not what you said.

ROMNEY: You can take a look --

OBAMA: Governor Romney --

ROMNEY: You can take a look --

OBAMA: Provide government help.

ROMNEY: I said we would provide guarantees and that was what was able to allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy.

OBAMA: Let's check the record.

ROMNEY: That's the height of silliness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now overall in the instant poll that CNN did, certainly the President seemed to win. But Mitt Romney did very well in a place where his campaign was really hoping he would, and that is could he be Commander-in-Chief?

On that issue, 60 percent of voters said yes. And that's not that far off from the President where he got 63 percent. Of course he already is the Commander-in-Chief -- John and Zoraida.

BERMAN: All right, Dana Bash down in Boca. Thanks so much. We want to wry in senior CNN political analyst and editorial director for the "National Journal," Ron Brownstein.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. So President Obama described as confident and commanding. Mitt Romney, though, scoring points on people are saying he looked presidential. What do you make of it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, no, I thought actually the President clearly drove this debate. He was much more confident. He was more commanding. Mitt Romney, you know, was a little bit of who was that masked man?

I mean, this was the first debate when he moderated positions on domestic policy. He really went much further on foreign policy, and really throwing off the persona of the spring. Which was much more of kind of a bristling, you know, I'll be tough on our enemies around the world and even tough on our allies around the world, kind of bend them to our will.

Last night you know, the lion -- I'm sorry the lamb devoured the lion. It was right from the first answer he was trying very much to blur differences rather than sharpen them, with the President. In a way, I think mostly to reassure female voters that he was not kind of the war monger that he thought the President was going to portray him out.

BERMAN: So our poll and the pundits seem to agree the President won last night. The question is, does it matter? Remember, there was a game seven playing last night. There was Monday night football. Will this make any kind of dent?

BROWNSTEIN: Nothing is going to be as consequential as the first debate. Because in the first debate, Mitt Romney established himself as a viable alternative for millions of people who are dissatisfied with President Obama's performance.

And you can't, in effect, redisqualify him after he crossed that threshold. But look, I think the President was very -- you know, very reassuring last night in the sense of being kind of a strong hand in turbulent times. And Mitt Romney, I think, was much more tentative than he was either of those first debates. And he also, on the one hand, neutralized the one attack of the President, trying to sharpen the sensation that he's too quick to think about work.

He kind of opened himself up to another line of argument that he is kind of serially adjusting and rethinking his positions. But overall the goal of a challenger in a foreign policy debate is to cross the Commander-in-Chief threshold. He didn't vault over the bar but he got over the bar. So in that sense it was successful.

SAMBOLIN: You just mentioned women a little while ago and I'm hyper- focused on that because we do have some numbers. Both of them were going in to women and you actually said you really felt that Romney would hyper-focus on that.

Look at this. When you talk about who won with women, 41 percent women for Obama and 34 percent for Romney.

BERMAN: It's 56 for Obama, 34 for Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, exactly. So look, the President in polling is looking at historically low numbers among white men. Both campaigns think that is relatively locked in. That is not going to change much.

That there is much more malleability at the end, much more movability, if that's a word, among women in the final stages and the President I think, given that second debate and everything that's happened after, really focusing on issues trying to move his numbers back up among women, which declined after that first debate.

And I think you saw him yesterday, that steadiness, may have been very appealing. Romney, I think, tried to be less threatening. I mean, you know, he was across the board we can't kill our way out of this.

We don't want another Iraq or Afghanistan. Much more kind of diplomacy tone on Iran than during the primaries, but there was a sense, I think, of unsteadiness that may have hurt him more with women.

BERMAN: That 22-point gap among women that's where Obama wants to be.

BROWNSTEIN: That's where he has to be. Look, if he is going to win this election it appears that it's going to be women moving back, blue collar women in the Upper Midwest that have been hanging with him and maybe more of the white collar women in the sun belt. I think that's his formula for getting to 270.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Ron Brownstein, CNN political analyst. Thank you for joining us.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: We appreciate it.

BERMAN: Always good to see Ron. As the two candidates threw out a lot of numbers, figures and claims we're trying to keep them honest this morning as much as we can. On Russia, President Obama charged that Mitt Romney has said Russia is our biggest foe. And Romney defended himself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: A few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not al Qaeda. You said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.

ROMNEY: Russia, I indicated, is a geopolitical foe. Not -- excuse me. It's a geopolitical foe and I said in the same paragraph, I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So the facts, which all played out in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer are this. Romney said that Russia was one of our biggest threats, but he added, North Korea and Iran also when pressed by Wolf Blitzer. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: This is to Russia. This is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors. The idea that he has some more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling, indeed.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": So you think Russia is a bigger foe right now than let's say Iran or China or North Korea, is that what you're suggesting, Governor?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors, of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran, and nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough.

But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world, and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go to the United Nations and who is it that always stands up for the world's worst actors, it is always Russia, typically with China alongside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So it's really true on both sides. Romney did call Russia our biggest geopolitical foe. And then only when pushed by Wolf, he expanded to include Iran and North Korea. Although it's interesting, even then he said that Russia was behind Iran and North Korea.

SAMBOLIN: All right, It is 11 minutes past the hour. Coming up, scoring the debate from a strategy point of view. We're talking to a man who's helped candidates prepare for the big stage before.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. So debates are about policy, they're about politics, but they're also very much about performance. Joining me to help score all of this is Brett O'Donnell, a man who knows debates better than anyone. He helped prepare Mitt Romney for some of his primary debates. He's also worked with George W. Bush and John McCain.

So, Brett, our CNN poll of debate watchers last night found that President Obama won the debate, 48 percent to 40 percent. You agree with that assessment?

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENT, O'DONNELL AND ASSOCIATES: Probably so. I mean, I think President Obama was the more aggressor of the two candidates. And the aggressor tends to be viewed as the winner. And so, given the fact that he was on the attack more than Governor Romney was, people are going to perceive him as doing better in the debate.

BERMAN: We were speaking during the break, and you said you were genuinely surprised by something that Mitt Romney sort of left on the table.

O'DONNELL: Yes, the very beginning. The very first question when Bob Schieffer explicitly directed the question toward Libya, trying to get them to engage in a back and forth over Benghazi, Governor Romney stayed away from that issue, went immediately to a broader foreign policy agenda, and then took the Osama bin Laden card off the table.

BERMAN: He took a lot off the table. He spent a lot of time agreeing with President Obama on a whole range of subjects. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I felt the same as the President did. I want to underscore the same point the President made. The President was right to up the usage of that technology.

OBAMA: There have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign where it sounded like you thought that you'd do the same things we did but you'd say them louder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, "The New York Times" editorial board agrees with the President, not shocking in some ways there.

It said, "Mr. Romney's problem is that he does not actually have any real ideas on foreign policy beyond what President Obama has already done, or plans to do."

Is this a problem for Romney or is this a strategy?

O'DONNELL: I think it's a strategy. I think last night you saw him basically hug the President to death. And the problem was it frustrated the President, and really, in an election that's centered on the economy, this was a strategy that Governor Romney could prosecute and get away with.

BERMAN: Well, what's the risk k there? That the President is able to look himself more presidential and more like a strong leader?

O'DONNELL: Well, I think that, you know, it let the President look like the commander-in-chief. But, you know, all Governor Romney had to do was pass the commander-in-chief test, which he did effectively. He was able to demonstrate that he'd be a calm hand as commander-in- chief, and if he gets over that bar, the big issue is the economy, which, if you go back and look at the debate, I thought he did a pretty good job of.

BERMAN: Now, you said that Mitt Romney frustrated the President. The President did continue one of his new line of attacks on Mitt Romney, really calling him a flip-flopper in that Romney hasn't stayed with any consistent foreign policy message. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor Romney, I'm glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after al Qaeda. But I have to tell you that, you know, your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map. So, what we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership. Not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map on a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's Afghanistan, whether it's Iraq, whether it's now Iran. You've been all over the map.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Mitt Romney did use substantially new language on the issues of Afghanistan and Iran. Does the President have a point here and is that a risk for Mitt Romney?

O'DONNELL: Well, it's a risk only if people really pay attention to it. That's the problem. I think for the President. This is not a foreign policy election. There's no indication that governor -- and, you know, the big question mark was, is Governor Romney going to be a warmonger? And he answered that question effectively last night by pushing his peace agenda, which, you know, was his message of the evening, too.

It was clear the President wanted to show that Governor Romney would be erratic, that he's been all over the map. He pushed that message throughout the night. But the frustrating thing, I think, for the President is, last night, Governor Romney was consistent. Whether or not that's a new position and whether or not the President can exploit that in the last two weeks in an economic election is a tough task.

BERMAN: Yes or no, this debate matter?

O'DONNELL: I don't think so.

BERMAN: All right. Brett O'Donnell, debate coach extraordinaire of candidates past and present -- always good to see you. Thanks very much for being with us.

Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: It is 19 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on this morning's other big stories.

To the harassment and child endangerment trial of Douglas Kennedy. A maternity ward nurse testifying in tears that Kennedy, the son of late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, twisted her arm and kicked another nurse as he tried to take his newborn son outside. The assistant D.A. said the nurses were simply following protocol during the January incident. The defense called the nurse abrasive and confrontational.

Go mini or go home. Apple is expected to introduce a smaller version of the iPad today and rumors are floating around the tech world that the iPad mini screen will be 7.85 inches, so that's down from 10 inches. It is also expected to cost around 250 bucks.

BERMAN: The San Francisco Giants are World Series bound. They routed the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-0, last night in the seventh game of the NLCS to complete really a remarkable comeback. The Giants are now 6-0 when facing elimination this post-season. They'll have home field advantage in the World Series against the N.L. champ Detroit Tigers.

In game one, man, it's tomorrow night in San Francisco. Get ready for that.

SAMBOLIN: And both candidates coming down hard on China. How bad is the trade imbalance between the two countries? We're checking the facts. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning and welcome back to EARLY START. We're minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures are down after markets closed flat yesterday.

BERMAN: But we are all about the debate this morning. Our money guru Christine Romans is looking at some of the President's claims on U.S. trade with China.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And when you talk about money and you talk American jobs, you're talking about China. Both candidates talking tough about the world's second largest economy in that debate, and the President claims that his policies are working.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now, with respect to what we've done with China already, U.S. exports have doubled, since I game into office, to China. And actually, currencies are at their most advantageous point for U.S. exporters since 1993.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. So on exports, he's right, but only if you look at two isolated months. If you just compare the month the President took office when we exported $4.2 billion worth of U.S. goods to China, and you look at August of this year, the exports have doubled. But if you look at the trend, exports are not there yet. Let me repeat that. He hasn't doubled exports to China if you look at the longer-term trend. 2008 exports to China were $69.7 billion. Last year $103.9 billion. This year, we're not quite on track to double it.

Also, as exports have risen, so have imports, right? That's the important part of the ledger. What goes out, what comes in. The trade deficit is worse since 2009. We're exporting more but we're importing more, too.

So, also, much of the candidate's criticism was focused on China's currency. It keeps it artificially low to make its products cheaper than American products. There has been recent progress as the President said. China has let its currency appreciate a tiny bit. But it is still held within a band set by the Chinese government and that, you guys, along with a host of other Chinese government policies still make China's exports, give them an edge over U.S. exports.

BERMAN: Only they can explain it as clearly as you do.

ROMANS: Are you making fun of me?

BERMAN: No, I'm serious! It was great.

SAMBOLIN: It makes sense.

Twenty-five minutes past the hour. We've had Big Bird, binders, and this time around bayonets. You'll hear last night's debate buzz word and so much more, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda. But we can't kill our way out of this mess.

OBAMA: What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership. Not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: President Obama and Mitt Romney, the men who want to be your president, face off over America's power and how to use it.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 30 minutes past the hour right now.

With 14 days now to go before America votes, 14 days, Mitt Romney and President Obama are back on the campaign trail this morning, with the final debate behind them, and us for that matter.

According to majority of viewers and political analysis, it was a more forceful president who won last night's third and final showdown. A CNN/ORC poll of people who watched the foreign policy debate shows that 48 percent said that President Obama won with 40 percent saying Mitt Romney.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is live from Boca Raton, Florida, this morning. Hey, Dana.

BASH: Hey there, John.

Well, Mitt Romney came in clearly determined not to make any gaffes, to do no harm, in this very important last debate. And as for the President, he came determined to paint Mitt Romney as somebody who is a naive, novice who doesn't really get the nuance of the world stage.

Mitt Romney came wanting voters to see him as commander-in-chief. The commander-in-chief came determined to make sure that didn't happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Mitt Romney came wanting voters to see him as commander-in-chief, commander-in-chief came determined to make sure that didn't happen.

OBAMA: I know you haven't been in position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong.

BASH: Time and time again, the President's harsh criticism tripped with sarcasm.

OBAMA: A few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not al Qaeda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, you know, the Cold War has been over for 20 years.

ROMNEY: Our Navy is smaller now than anytime since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We are now at 285.

OBAMA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916.

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

BASH: Before the debate, Romney advisors told CNN he would not be the scrappy candidate we saw in the last one. Instead, stay solid and steady. Not take the President's bait.

ROMNEY: And attacking me is not an agenda.

BASH: Romney repeatedly blamed the President for failing to lead on global hot spots.

ROMNEY: You look at the record of the last four years and say is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is al Qaeda on the run, on its heels? No. Are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No.

BASH: But for the most part, Romney was calm demeanor and remarkably agreeable on policy, from Syria to Egypt to Afghanistan.

ROMNEY: Well, we're going to be finished by 2014. And when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.

BASH: In fact, the Republican who Democrats try to paint as a warmonger used the opening minutes to position himself as a peacemaker.

ROMNEY: I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after leadership in al Qaeda. But we can't kill our way out of this mess.

BASH: Romney successfully got under the President's skin by repeating this allegation.

ROMNEY: And then the President began what I've called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they look at that and saw weakness.

OBAMA: Nothing Governor Romney just said is true -- starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: This 90-minute debate was supposed to be exclusively about foreign policy. But each candidate tried to bring it back to the economy so many times, John, and Zoraida. And it's pretty obvious why. They understand that that is the number one issue that voters care most about.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Dana Bash, Boca Raton, Florida. Thanks for being with us after this debate and all the debates. Let's make a date to do it again in four years. Thanks, Dana.

SAMBOLIN: A debate for four years from now, or a date. Great.

All right. So, joining me now with more on last night's final presidential debate is CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ana Navarro, and CNN political analyst Roland Martin.

So, Roland, I'm going to start with you.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. SAMBOLIN: Our CNN poll showed debate watchers thought President Obama won. So briefly, what do you think he did well, and what do you think he did wrong?

MARTIN: Last night was sort of like a ventriloquist. There was President Obama, and then Mitt Romney constantly saying, "I agree, Mr. President." "I agree with that policy, Mr. President." "I agree with that policy, Mr. President."

Maybe it should have been Bob Schieffer and President Obama for one- on-one last night. Romney was sitting there sweating, clearly got outclassed. He couldn't even lay a hand on the President when it came to Libya.

So, no doubt, you saw who clearly was comfortable and strong being commander-in-chief. And Romney, again, a lot of things that he's said on the campaign trail, last night was, oh, no, it's all good. I'm sort of different now.

SAMBOLIN: Ana, I would think that you would probably agree with Roland on Libya, wouldn't you?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I do. It was the first question, right off the bat. I think Mitt Romney was a little off when he came out of the gate. In those first -- in the first and second question, he was nervous. I think he was -- he might have been over-prepared. He was trying to put everything out on the table at once and in the meantime, he missed the point on Benghazi on really slamming the solid blow.

I think he recovered as the debate went on, he gave some very solid answers, along the debate. But President Obama was prepared, and had some very solid rebuttals.

SAMBOLIN: So, Roland just mentioned that Romney spent a lot of time agreeing with President Obama last night. So there's a piece this morning in "The New York Times" and it says, quote, "Mr. Romney's problem is that he does not actually have any real ideas on foreign policy beyond what President Obama has already done, or plans to do."

MARTIN: Right.

SAMBOLIN: So, Ana, do you think this is a problem for Romney?

NAVARRO: I think it was a strategy. You know, yesterday morning, the Obama campaign came out with a new ad, and the new ad was all about, it's a clearer choice.

Let me tell you guys, if you saw that debate last night, I didn't see that clearer choice. And I think that that's what Mitt Romney was trying to do. To, you know, take away the argument of the Obama campaign that he is a warmonger, with a twitchy finger who wants to shoot all enemies dead.

MARTIN: But, Ana, here's the problem. You've heard Mitt Romney repeatedly for the last several months, frankly, last several years, and last night you hear a different person. And again, it was constantly, "I agree, I agree, I agree."

So, ask yourself the question, then, if I'm watching two candidates, and all you can say is, "I agree," then why do we need you in the oval office as commander-in-chief, if we've already got the person there who you're constantly agreeing with? He kept going back to even in terms of Iran, when it comes to sanctions, we need to have more the President's sitting there going, yes, we've already done that. We've already done that.

And so, he clearly was demolishing and was outclassed. The President was clear, I'm the commander-in-chief. Let me show you how this is done.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: Let's talk about that phrase, commander-in-chief. Ana, one second here. The CNN poll of debate watchers asked can he handle the job of commander-in-chief. So look at these numbers, 63 percent said Obama could, and 60 percent said Romney could.

MARTIN: And that's our poll of likely voters. If you look at the poll of CBS uncommitted voters last night, Obama won 53 percent, Romney 23 percent, a 30-point difference.

If you're already a likely voter if you're Republican, you're set in stone. If you're a Democrat, you're set in stone. If you are undecided, that's who you're trying to reach right now, who was more effective last night? Clearly President Obama over Mitt Romney.

SAMBOLIN: Undecideds and women, Ana. How do you decide to that?

NAVARRO: Let me respond to what Roland has said before. Look the foreign policy aspect is part of the presidential job description. But right now it is not the most important.

MARTIN: Part of?

NAVARRO: No, the economy is. And I think every American would agree with that. I think it's a very important part, but it's not the most important. Not right now. Not where we are.

MARTIN: Whatever you hear --

NAVARRO: Wait, wait, wait, hold on. Roland, hold up. I know President Obama likes to interrupt, but I'm not in the mood to be interrupted this morning.

MARTIN: Ana, you --

SAMBOLIN: Here you guys, I'll interrupt.

MARTIN: You're a Republican downplaying commander-in-chief role when GOP has always been a winner in that area.

NAVARRO: Well, I'm not downplaying it. But you're asking why do we want somebody else? Well, because he offers different policies on other issues, Roland. You know. And I think he got under your skin --

MARTIN: Actually, he didn't.

NAVARRO: -- and President Obama's skin, and that they did agree a lot last night.

SAMBOLIN: Ana and Roland, I'm going to interrupt. I really appreciate both of you this morning.

Ana Navarro, CNN contributor and Republican strategist, and Roland Martin, CNN political analyst. We have to leave it there, I'm sorry. But, you know, we always invite you back. Thank you so much for being with us.

BERMAN: Wow, that was debate number four.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: We're going to send a poll to find out who won that one.

Meanwhile, our poll of last night, and many pundits believe that President Obama won the debate. But, can Governor Romney hold his own? And will that be enough come Election Day? One of his key foreign policy advisers, former Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, he's going to join us right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Forty-two minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Zoraida. Good morning to you. We're coming to you live from Boca Raton in Florida. The site, of course, of last night's presidential debate.

From bayonets to Detroit, from red lines to al Qaeda, we're holding the candidates to their words, breaking down the facts for you this morning. We'll also take a look at the night's most memorable moments with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, and Bill Burton with Priorities USA Action PAC.

Also this morning, are some energy drinks killing people? We're going to tell you about an investigation into Monster energy drinks.

And baseball fever. The Giants make it into the World Series, of all the highlights for you this morning.

That's coming up right at the top of the hour on "STARTING POINT."

Back to you, Z.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: So it was likely the last time these two candidates for president could look each other in the eye before Election Day. The third and final debate in Boca Raton, Florida. This one, of course, focusing on foreign policy like we've been saying all morning.

I want to bring in former Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. He is a key foreign policy adviser for the Romney campaign.

And, Senator Coleman, our debate after the poll last night of people who watched found that President Obama won the debate. The spread was about 48 percent to 40 percent. Do you agree with that assessment? Was this a clear win for President Obama?

FMR. SEN. NORM COLEMAN, (R) MINNESOTA: Well, the question is, what's winning. And the most important part about winning is whether people said could Governor Romney be a good commander-in-chief. And on that number it was about 60-something percent.

And perhaps the more important question about winning is winning in terms of whether when you vote. I believe on the CNN poll, Governor Romney was slightly ahead.

It was a PPP Democratic polling group that had people saying more likely to vote for Governor Romney, 47-35. Less likely -- more likely to vote for President Obama 32, less likely 46. And that was a poll also that said on points, on points, President Obama won the race.

And the final analysis, this is an election. People are looking for who can be the commander-in-chief. What Governor Romney did last night is he tied having a strong economy as being essential to having a strong military, strong foreign policy.

BERMAN: What --

COLEMAN: And clearly on that point, he clearly won the debate.

BERMAN: What he also seemed to do last night, more than he has ever done before, and I've covered him now for, you know, five years, is he seemed to agree with President Obama on a whole range of foreign policy issues, seemingly, for the first time. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I felt the same as the President did. I want to underscore the same point the President made. The President was right to up the usage of that technology.

OBAMA: There have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you'd do the same things we did, but you'd say them louder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Why all this agreement, Senator? Did the governor miss a chance to separate himself from President Obama on foreign policy? COLEMAN: No, I don't think it's about, you know, trying to separate himself. I think what the governor did last night, what he accomplished and I think what Americans wanted to see was somebody who could be a strong commander-in-chief. On issues like (INAUDIBLE), there's no argument over that.

I think one of the other things that Governor Romney showed last night, he showed in the course of the debates is here's somebody who's focused on getting things done, who worked with folks to get things done, and I think folks in America are crying for that. So is he going to argue over the use of drones? No, he supports it. And so, there are those things where he could agree, we can agree.

Everything doesn't have to be a battle. The question is how do you make America more secure? You make it more secure by rebuilding this economy. Governor Romney laid out his five points how he's going to do it. The President played Rope-A-Dope. Again not a plan, not a way forward, simply saying trust me and the next four years will be better. So bottom line is, you don't have to fight over everything.

Governor Romney demonstrated that and reflected back to his time in Massachusetts as a Republican governor and a Democrat state and he says I know how to get things done. And I think that's what the folks in America are looking for today.

BERMAN: It's not so much about fighting over everything. It's about taking a different line than he has in the past on some issues. Take Afghanistan, for instance. In the past, Governor Romney has been critical of the President giving a timetable for withdrawal in Afghanistan.

He has also said specifically he would consult with generals before withdrawing troops in 2014. But last night, it was a decidedly different tone. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: When I'm President, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We've seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding apace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Again, in the past, Mitt Romney very critical of the President for issuing a timetable. In the past, Mitt Romney saying he would consult with generals before withdrawing troops. I don't think I've ever heard him say the commanders and generals say we are on track to withdraw by 2014. So this really does feel like a new tone on Afghanistan.

COLEMAN: Well, where I would disagree with that, I think the governor has been very, very clear that he's on with the 2014 timeline. The President was off track last night, and the governor called them on and I presume the fact check is going to lay it out and said the President said -- the President talked about negotiating a ten-year commitment to Afghanistan.

It's ending military operations in 2014, but the President has talked about a longer-term commitment. Bottom line, Governor Romney has always been very clear about that. He's always been very clear about working with commanders on the ground. But 2014 date was set.

I think Governor Romney criticized how you said it, criticized whether that was the way to set it, kind of announcing it publicly, perhaps, without fully consulting with commanders on the ground. I don't think he's ever argued the point that we're going to live with the 2014 deadline.

BERMAN: Last question for you, Senator Coleman. Kind of a fun one here, hoping you can shed some light on a statement that got a lot of play on Twitter and the Internet overnight when Mitt Romney was talking a little bit about geography between Syria and Iran. Let's listen quickly to that bite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea. It's their route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now a lot of people pointed out overnight that Iran actually has a lot of coastline of its own. It's got the Persian Gulf there. So is Syria -- Syria doesn't even border Iran. So is Syria, in fact, Iran's route to the sea?

COLEMAN: Yes, there is no question that Syria is Iran's route to supply Hezbollah. Syria is Iran's route to supply terrorists. And so, he's absolutely correct on Syria being kind of the linchpin of Iranian kind of spreading its influence on the region.

So I'm not going to argue geography, but the reality is everybody understands that Syria is the kind of front man for Iran. You take out Assad, you hurt Iran very seriously.

BERMAN: All right. Former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota conceding that Iran does, in fact, have coastline of its own, but it is great to see you this morning. Thank you very muc, Senator Coleman.

COLEMAN: Thank you so much.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-nine minutes past the hour. We just heard from the Romney team. Coming up, the view from the left on last night's debate. Did President Obama do what he set out to do?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. In just moments, a Soyuz rocket is set to blast off. There it goes with the next set of International Space Station crew members. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Evegeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy as they head on a two-day trip to the International Space Station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty seconds into the flight, good first stage performance. The Soyuz delivering 102 tons of thrust from its four --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: There are live pictures you're looking at right now of that Russian Soyuz rocket blasting off to the International Space Station. It's a three-member crew. A U.S./Russian crew expected to reach the space station on Thursday. The three astronauts already on board will return to earth next month.

Again, there the Soyuz rocket goes right now at this very moment on the way to the International Space Station -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: That is so cool that you caught it right when it was launching. Thank you.

BERMAN: I appreciate it. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. President Obama came out swinging last night and it wasn't lost on voters. Our CNN poll of debate watchers found that 68 percent felt that the President spent more time attacking Mitt Romney. So joining me now is former White House communications director under President Clinton, Don Baer.

Don is also the Worldwide President and CEO of the public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller. So let's start with your reaction to the debate last night. CNN debate watchers give the debate to President Obama. Who do you think or what do you think he did well last night?

DON BAER, WORLDWIDE PRESIDENT & CEO, BURSON-MARSTELLER: Well, I think President Obama showed that he's learned how to run foreign policy well. He was steady and strong. He was also sort of aggressive and assertive with regard to Governor Romney. You know, I actually think this. This has been a very long, confusing campaign, somewhat very rancorous campaign.

You boil it all down, it's pretty simple. The American people want two things. They want peace and they want prosperity. And actually, if you listen to that debate last night, both sides are trying to talk about how do we get more peace and how do we get more prosperity? And that's really what it came down to.

SAMBOLIN: So do you think Romney did that as well?

BAER: I think -- you know what? I think Romney came across as someone who is credible as commander-in-chief, which was probably his first bar and maybe his only bar for that debate.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So the President was clearly on the attack last night. We mentioned the CNN poll. But, so was Mitt Romney. Let's listen to this. We don't have that. So but here's my question, if you were on the Obama campaign, would you concerned that going on the offense the way that he did would affect the voters?

BAER: Well, I think the challenge for that is that he maybe looks too aggressive. On the other hand, he's in a position right now, we know where the momentum has been in this race as of late, he needed to do that. And I think he needed to be strong in terms of the defense of his foreign policy over the last several years.

Now, the Romney he thought was going to turn up didn't turn up for this debate. And therefore, there might have seemed to be a bit of a mismatch there. But I think, overall, the country wants to see that the President is assertive with regard to American security. And I think they saw that last night.

SAMBOLIN: So what you do is you prepare presidents for debate. The last incumbent Democratic president to run for re-election, Bill Clinton, you prepared him for the debate against Bob Dole that was back in 1996.

BAER: It's a long time ago.

SAMBOLIN: Not that long ago. So President Obama did not fail to pull rank last night. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Well, my first job as commander-in-chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe. And that's what we've done over the last four years. Here's one thing I've learned as commander-in-chief, you've got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand, and what you mean.

One thing I think Americans should be proud of when Tunisians began to protest, this nation, me, my administration, stood with them earlier than just about any other country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So in our poll of debate watchers, nearly as many people said Romney could actually handle the job as commander-in-chief. What do you make of those numbers?

BAER: Well, I think Romney crossed the main bar that he needed to cross last night. He did not come of as seeming to have a hair trigger. He seemed like someone who could be in the oval office and do the job. But I have to say, President Obama also showed how much he has learned.

You know, remember, when he ran, one of the questions was, would he be able to step up to foreign policy and do the job? Clearly, he feels very confident about this.

SAMBOLIN: Are you saying it was kind of an even match last night?

BAER: I think it was kind of toe-to-toe, right? SAMBOLIN: Interesting.

BAER: And so, on to the next 2 1/2 weeks of the election because that's really, you know, where this is going to go. This is going to be a long slog to the end and everyone knows it.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Here's one of Obama's strongest retorts to criticism from Romney about the navy having fewer ships than it did in 1917. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the navy, for example. And that we had fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed.

We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines. And so, the question is not a game of battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So horses and bayonets. And bayonets is one of the to trending things on Google last night. So might it hurt President Obama in key battleground states like the state of Virginia, perhaps, where these navy ships are made?

BAER: I doubt it. I mean, I don't think people are parsing it quite that way. Look, I think people are looking for the demeanors, are these people strong? Are they resolute? I think they saw that in both of them. I actually think you can kind of take the foreign policy issues now off the table and go back.

I talked about peace and prosperity. I think this is about prosperity. How are we going to return to it and which one of these candidates is better able to get us there?

SAMBOLIN: All right. Don Baer, I really appreciate your perspective this morning. Thank you for coming in.

BAER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. A special edition of STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien starts right now live from Boca Raton.