After break for smiles, rivals prepare to debate

Once the jokes and jibes had been served at the annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner on Thursday, President Obama and Mitt Romney closed with praise for each other in a disarming show of civility that is unlikely to be repeated before Election Day.

Smiles and handshakes all around. Good sportsmanship cloaked in white ties and tailcoats at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

So much for that. The candidates spent Saturday preparing for their third and final debate on Monday, when foreign policy will be the topic at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Obama is spending the weekend huddled with aides at Camp David in Maryland, while Romney is spending the weekend prepping in Florida.


While they studied and rehearsed, their surrogates blasted away on the campaign trail. Vice President Joe Biden addressed a rally Saturday in St. Augustine, Fla., while Representative Paul D. Ryan spoke in Belmont, Ohio, and Moon Township, Pa.

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In Ohio, Ryan continued a new line of attack in which Romney is accusing the president of thinking “small” and offering only more of the same in a second term. The Obama campaign has countered that Romney, instead, is the candidate without adequate specifics about his tax plan, its impact on the federal budget, and foreign policy.

Near the coalfields of eastern Ohio, Ryan urged a rain-dampened gathering of about 1,100 people to vote early. ‘‘The one thing you can do is elect a man named Mitt Romney who will end this war on coal and allow us to keep these good paying jobs,” Ryan said.

After Ryan’s remarks, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner fired back.

“Congressman Ryan either doesn’t know his running mate’s record or he’s just not telling the truth about it. As governor, Mitt Romney said a coal-fired plant ‘kills people’ and touted his power plant regulations as the ‘toughest in the nation,’ ’’ Kanner said.


“But under President Obama, employment in coal mining hit a 15-year high in 2011 while he’s making historic investments in clean coal research and development.”

The Romney campaign released a new ad on Friday that criticizes the president on debt, health care, taxes, energy, and Medicare. Campaign officials did not say where the spot would be shown.

In Orlando, Biden stopped by a campaign field office to offer encouragement in a swing state with 29 electoral votes.

“We wanted to come to the epicenter of the epicenter, man,’’ Biden said. “Florida, you guys produce, we win Florida. We win Florida, this is all history, man.”

In an average of recent polls, Romney leads Obama in Florida, 48.8 percent to 46.7, according to RealClearPolitics.


Nationwide, the race continues to be close. Although a Gallup poll released Friday showed Romney leading Obama 51 percent to 45 percent, other surveys showed a closer race. A poll released that day by the University of Connecticut and the Hartford Courant showed Obama leading 48 to 45 percent.

The debate on Monday is likely to be contentious. Foreign policy already has produced sparks between the men, most notably in last week’s debate on Long Island, where Obama used the word “offensive” to describe Romney’s suggestion that he put campaign politics ahead of an investigation into the deadly assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The president has said that he launched an immediate probe into the attack on Sept. 11 and that he blamed the act on terrorists the following day. Republicans counter that for two weeks administration officials linked the attack to a protest over an anti-Islam video made in the United States.

Romney has faulted American intelligence before and after the attack. He also has relentlessly criticized the president’s policies in the Middle East, which he argues have weakened the United States by undercutting Israel, failing to curb the Iranian nuclear program, and encouraging extremists to launch assaults like the one in Benghazi, which killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.

Ryan told a Milwaukee radio station on Friday that Obama would not answer basic questions about what the administration knew about that attack and about the consulate’s security needs.

“His response has been inconsistent. It’s been misleading,’’ Ryan said.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@
globe.com. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.