Mitt Romney has doubled his lead in a new national poll just hours after the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida.
Just two weeks to go until election day it is unclear whether President Barack Obama will be able to make up the gap.
Mitt Romney held a four-point lead in the Rasmussen tracking poll released on Tuesday, with 50% of the vote compared to 46% for Barack Obama. In Monday’s poll he led by two points.
In addition, Mitt Romney’s lead was five points in swing states and as many as nine points among self-declared independent voters.
The poll was released just a few hours after the third and last debate of the presidential election campaign, which saw the two candidates clash over foreign affairs in Boca Raton.
Barack Obama showed off his foreign-policy experience, repeatedly patronizing his opponent as he accused him off being “all over the map” on how to deal with the world, even describing him as “wrong and reckless”.
But Mitt Romney held his own in the face of Barack Obama’s sustained assaults, working hard to establish his credentials as a sober and steady statesman with an obviously well-briefed analysis of world matters, from Iran to Poland to Mali.
The two bitter rivals were meeting for the final time at Lynn University in Boca Raton with all to play for in a neck-and-neck race for the White House.
CNN’s survey of debate-watchers showed that 48% considered the President the winner, with 40% favoring Romney and 12% undecided. A CBS poll had Barack Obama in front with 53% compared to just 23% for Romney, with 24% on the fence.
The Rasmussen Reports poll released on Tuesday recounted only the results of surveys conducted before the debate, so it is not yet known whether either candidate will receive a boost from the evening.
Mitt Romney has doubled his lead in a new national poll just hours after the final presidential debate in Boca Raton
One contest Barack Obama undoubtedly won was that of loquaciousness – the President spoke for 41 minutes and 42 seconds, 35 seconds longer than Mitt Romney. The Democratic candidate had the majority of speaking time in all four presidential or vice-presidential debates this year.
It was Barack Obama who appeared to be the challenger at times – a clear sign that he fears his re-election hopes are slipping away from him – hammering away at Mitt Romney, trying to belittle him and all but calling him a liar.
Mitt Romney tried to remain above the fray and appeal to moderate and undecided voters. He was noticeably less tetchy than in the bad-tempered second debate in Hempstead, New York.
But Mitt Romney hit home with a precise attack on Barack Obama’s “apology tour” of the Middle East in 2009, which seemed to rile Obama visibly. He said that the President had said he was sorry the U.S. had dictated to countries, adding: “Mr. President we have not dictated to other nations, we have freed other nations from dictators.”
The Romney campaign appeared confident in the aftermath of the debate, arguing that Barack Obama was “shedding voters” and was “trying to manage the rate of decline” in support ahead of election day.
“We entered this debate in a good position and we leave it in a stronger position,” said strategist Stuart Stevens.
“Whatever is that intangible quality of being presidential and who you would trust, Governor Romney had it more than the President.”
Speaking about Barack Obama’s performance in Boca Raton, Stuart Stevens added: “It was not the demeanor you would expect of a President. He came in with a bunch of political talking points like a young fresh graduate of a spin class trying to come off with these points.”
But the President’s campaign manager Jim Messina described Mitt Romney as “unsteady”, adding that he “did not look like a commander-in-chief. He did not pass the test and that’s a very bad moment for the Romney campaign”.
Jim Messina continued: “The contrast tonight was between a strong and steady President and an uncertain Romney and that’s how incumbent presidents get re-elected.”
Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney have battled over national security in the third and final presidential debate at Boca Raton, Florida.
The rivals tangled over the Arab Spring, Iran, China’s rise and more in a feisty 90-minute head-to-head.
Barack Obama said his Republican challenger was “all over the map” on foreign policy, while Mitt Romney said the president had failed to uphold American global leadership.
The two candidates are running neck and neck with two weeks until the election.
In the final debate, moderated by veteran CBS News presenter Bob Schieffer, there were no noticeable gaffes or knockout blows.
The forum at Lynn University featured little of the interrupting that marked their second encounter last week in New York, when Barack Obama came out swinging after his lackluster performance in their first head to head in Denver, Colorado.
The rivals found some common ground – each declared unequivocal support for Israel and both voiced opposition to US military involvement in Syria.
Mitt Romney also said he agreed with the president’s policy of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 2014 – the Republican has suggested otherwise in the past.
In laying out one of his overarching themes on foreign policy, Mitt Romney said the US under President Barack Obama’s leadership had allowed “tumult” to engulf the Middle East.
He cited civilian deaths in Syria, the rise of al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and Iran’s nuclear programme.
But the Republican steered clear of his suggestion in the last debate that the Obama administration had mishandled last month’s Libya US consulate attack, which left four Americans dead.
Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney have battled over national security in the third and final presidential debate at Boca Raton
“What’s been happening over the last couple of years is, as we’re watching this tumult in the Middle East, this rising tide of chaos occur, you see al-Qaeda rushing in, you see other jihadist groups rushing in,” Mitt Romney said.
“I congratulate him on taking out Osama Bin Laden and taking on the leadership of al-Qaeda, but we can’t kill our way out of this… We must have a comprehensive strategy.”
Barack Obama hit back that he was glad that Mitt Romney had recognized the threat posed by al-Qaeda, reminding the former Massachusetts governor that he had earlier this year cast Russia as America’s number one geo-political foe.
The president sought to portray Mitt Romney as a foreign policy novice who lacked the consistency needed to be commander-in-chief.
Barack Obama said Mitt Romney had backed a continued troop presence in Iraq, opposed nuclear treaties with Russia, even when they had broad bipartisan backing, and accused the Republican of flip-flopping over whether the US should have a timeline for leaving Afghanistan.
“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,” Barack Obama said.
The president said that he had ended the war in Iraq and “decimated” al-Qaeda’s leadership, allowing the US to prepare a responsible timeline for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Mitt Romney, whose book is called No Apology, accused Barack Obama of having gone on “an apology tour” after he took office and of saying at the time he would meet “all the world’s worst actors”, including leaders from North Korea and Iran.
“I think they looked at that and saw weakness,” Mitt Romney said.
The president hit back, saying: “Nothing Governor Romney has just said is true, starting with the notion of me apologizing,” a claim Barack Obama labeled the “biggest whopper” of the campaign.
The rivals also jostled to act tougher than the other on China, as allegations flew about trade violations and currency manipulation by Beijing.
Although the debate’s focus was meant to be on foreign affairs, the two candidates pivoted repeatedly back to the fragile US economy, the issue uppermost in voters’ minds.
Mitt Romney said he knew what it took to create jobs and boost pay, while Barack Obama was nine million jobs short of his pledge of 5.4% employment.
But Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of planning $5 trillion of tax cuts and $2 trillion of defence spending the military had not even requested.
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Barack Obama said in one of the night’s most memorable lines.
“Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”
An NBC poll on Sunday put the men in a dead heat, each with 47% support.
A lackluster performance by Barack Obama in the opening debate in Denver, Colorado, on 3 October gave Mitt Romney a campaign boost.
But in their second face-off in New York last week, a more aggressive Barack Obama buried the memory of a poor first showing as he came out swinging on the economy, tax and foreign policy.
After Monday night’s showdown, both candidates will be returning to the campaign trail for a grueling final two weeks of wooing voters in swing states.
The final debate behind them, both men will now launch a final fortnight of campaigning. Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.