Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Debates are high-pressure, high-risk events, and they often offer low rewards. A candidate's first goal is not to win the debate, but rather not to lose -- to do no harm to the campaign. A simple misstep can change the course of an election.

The first debate was a clear win for former Gov. Romney, who appeared more interested and engaged than President Obama, who appeared aloof, disinterested and arrogant. The difference in their performances -- each standing at a lectern -- enabled Romney to gain momentum in the polls.

In their second meeting, they prowled around stage, often circling each other like prizefighters. The debate was a draw.

The final debate, held this week and focusing on foreign policy, was conducted with both candidates seated at a table next to each another.

The president had an automatic advantage by virtue of his position. He has access to daily national security briefings and holds the position of power for which the challenger is auditioning. When voters think commander in chief, a picture of the current president comes to their minds.

Romney's goal for the debate was for voters to be able to answer the following questions in the affirmative when the debate was done.

Can I see Romney as commander in chief?

Is he knowledgeable and credible regarding foreign policy?

Do I trust him to make the right decisions about sending our men and women into battle?

The answer to all three questions was yes.

Romney maintained his composure while being attacked by the president, provided detailed answers and pivoted successfully to the area of domestic economic growth.

Obama finished his first question by taking a swipe at Romney. "Your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East," he told Romney.

Romney responded that his strategy would be "a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own."

Obama kept up the attack. "Gov. Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that al-Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago, when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida," he said.

When Romney attempted to set the record straight, Obama interrupted, appearing less presidential than Romney.
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Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.