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US candidates eye momentum from third and final debate

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney tangle over foreign policy Monday night (0100 GMT) in their final presidential debate, with both candidates still looking for a breakout moment in a deadlocked White House campaign two weeks before Election Day.

Polls show Obama with a small advantage in voter perceptions about which candidate is best prepared to handle U.S. foreign policy in chaotic world. Romney will do his best in the 90-minute debate in Florida to minimize the president's accomplishments and win the support of the small slice of undecided voters among the millions of Americans who will be watching.

The former Massachusetts governor has been hitting Obama hard on the administration's changing explanations of what happened in last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where militants killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The Syria violence, Iran-Israel tensions, China, terrorism and the war winding down in Afghanistan were also expected to come up in Monday's debate. Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News has picked five topics, devoting the most time to the Middle East and terrorism. Other subjects are America's role in the world, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, and the rise of China.

As the Nov. 6 vote approaches, 41 of the 50 U.S. states are essentially decided, and the candidates are fighting over the remaining nine battleground states, including the critical Ohio and Florida.

The battleground states assume outsized importance because the presidency is decided in state-by-state contests, not by a national popular vote. The system can lead to a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the presidency.

Obama, Romney Tied in Poll

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday showed Obama and Romney tied, with both candidates backed by 47 percent of likely voters nationwide.

The poll was conducted after the second presidential debate last Tuesday that Obama was seen as winning after a poor performance in the first debate on Oct. 3. In the last such poll before the presidential debates began, the president held a three-point lead over Romney, 49 percent to 46 percent.

Among the wider pool of all registered voters in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Obama leads Romney by five points, 49 percent to 44 percent. Romney is ahead among men (53 percent to 43 percent), and Obama leads among women (51 percent to 43 percent).

In addition to the political fight over the Libya attack, reports flashed over the weekend about developments in the administration's efforts to end Iran's suspected drive to build a nuclear weapon.

The White House denied a New York Times report that there was an agreement in principle for bilateral talks with Tehran after the election. White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, however, said the administration had repeatedly expressed its willingness for such talks.

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In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Cat Rambo, left, and Manuel Garcia show off their interpretations of presidential candidates Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama at the Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo, Florida, Sunday, Oct. 21. (AP)

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