7:06 Central Time: Get ready!
7:32: In the comments, Sorun said, "I predict a big Obama win tonight, since the only people watching will be single women (and Althouse)." Ha ha. Very funny. Right now, we are watching the baseball game. I know there's football too.
8:02: Bob Scheiffer introduces the candidates.
8:04: First question: Libya. Romney talking as Obama keeps an icy stare trained upon him. I don't hear Romney nailing any strong point. He's decided to be conciliatory here for some reason. Obama talking now, stressing liberating the people of Libya after 40 years of despotism.
8:14: Romney: "Attacking me is not an agenda." He corrects Obama about Russia. He certainly wouldn't say to Putin he'll have flexibility after the election. Now, there's a lot of overtalking about Iraq. Obama gains control and talks about being "clear" about foreign policy. The moderator is not intervening, so the topics are allowed to be completely mixed up.
8:17: Obama has picked up Romney's tic of ticking off 5 points.
8:18: Syria. "Syrians are going to have to determine their own future," says Obama. What we see in Syria "is heartbreaking," but it would be "a serious step" to get "more entangled." Romney says "Syria is an opportunity for us." It's "Iran's only ally," but we don't want to get "dragged into a military conflict." Romney's trying to be level-headed and presidential, not to shake anything up here tonight.
8:21: Romney says we should "be taking the leadership role" in Syria, and Obama picks up that phrase: "We are playing the leadership role."
8:24: Romney doesn't have different ideas about Syria, because we're doing the right thing there, says Obama.
8:25: Egypt: Romney wouldn't have supported Mubarak. Basically, again, Romney agrees with what Obama did. Romney adds some aspirations about the Middle East, but not any real distinction from Obama.
8:29: "What is America's role in the world?" is Bob Schieffer's big, generic question. Romney, "America must be strong. America must lead." Obama says we're "the one indispensable nation... Our alliances have never been stronger."
8:34: They've stopped interrupting each other. No belligerence tonight. There's an evenness and similarity to the 2 candidates (not that there aren't a few disagreements).
8:39: Obama just did some sharp interrupting while Romney was rhapsodizing about education in Massachusetts.
8:43: Romney defends military spending. He emphasizes keeping the numbers of ships and planes up. Obama says Romney doesn't understand how the military works. "We... have fewer horses and bayonets..." he says sarcastically. It's not "a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships."
8:47: Question: Does an attack on Israel count as an attack on the United States? Obama doesn't give a straightforward yes, but says "I will stand with Israel."
8:48: Romney adopts the same "stand with Israel" language. Both stressed military intervention as the last resort.
8:52: Obama says the reports of an agreement with Iran are not true. "We would welcome Iran" into "the community of nations." He chides Romney for acting as though it would work to say the same things but say them "louder."
8:54: Iran "saw weakness," Romney said, harkening back to Obama's campaign 2008 statements about willingness to sit down with the leaders of Iran (and other places). Obama was silent on Iran's Green Revolution. Obama said he'd put "daylight" between the U.S. and Israel, and that encouraged Iran's defiance. We need to "show strength." We need the tightest possible sanctions. We need to indict Ahmadinejad.
8:57: Everything Romney just said is untrue, according to Obama, who claims he was "very clear" about the Green Revolution.
8:58: Romney: "The reason I called it an apology tour... You said America had been dismissive and derisive... America has not 'dictated to other nations.' America has freed other nations."
9:01: Schieffer wants to know what we'd do if Israel called up and said our bombers are on the way to Israel, and Romney rejects the hypothetical. That's not the relationship we have. It wouldn't play out like that.
9:06: Romney assures us we'll bring our troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. But what if the Afghans aren't ready? That was the question. Obama ignores the question the same way.
9:11: "Is it time for us to divorce Pakistan?" asks Bob Schieffer. Romney: No, it's too important — nuclear weapons, terrorists.
9:13: Romney is asked about drone strikes, and he completely supports Obama's policy.
9:18: Obama defends fighting China when it dumped cheap tires here. Romney doesn't want "protectionism" against China, but finding mutual interests with China: We want a stable world, "but you've got to play by the rules." And Romney wants to declare China a "currency manipulator." Romney explains why that makes sense. "I want a great relationship with China" but "they can't roll all over us."
9:26: Lots of fighting over the auto industry. Obama says check the record and a bit later Romney says check the record. Romney's point is that government should not invest in business, while Obama is accusing him of willingness to let the auto companies go into liquidation.
9:30: Romney wants to get the private sector growing, which isn't done by hiring a lot of teachers, though he certainly does love teachers. Schieffer, rushing toward the finish line, says "I think we all love teachers," and announces it's time for closing statements.
9:36: Closing statements. Bob Schieffer ends with his mom's advice: Go vote.
9:40: Michelle Obama comes onto stage to greet Obama and about 10 Romney people — including a lot of kids — come up to hang out with Romney.
9:44: I watched on CNN (with that damn graph on the bottom showing how undecided males and females reacted to each moment), and afterwards James Carville yammered so much about how Obama won that I turned it off. I didn't think either candidate won. They seemed surprisingly similar. Obama certainly maintained eye contact. If it was an eye contact contest, Obama won.
9:52: Here's my bottom line: By adopting a strategy of only modestly challenging Obama and mostly seeming the same as Obama on foreign policy, Romney neutralized foreign policy as an issue and kept the election focus on the economy. He even refocused the discussion on the economy whenever he could over the course of the evening. The election is about the economy, and nothing either candidate said tonight will change that. The only way Obama really could have won is if Romney had tumbled into some kind of exploitable gaffe. That didn't happen.