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Talkin' Politics with Karl Rove, Howard Dean

Talkin' Politics with Karl Rove, Howard Dean

The two political heavyweights held their own debate Monday night prior to the final presidential debate

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Howard Dean, left, and Karl Rove share a laugh with debate moderator Duke Professor Peter Feaver. Photo by Les Todd/Duke University Photography.

Durham, NC - Predictably, a debate pitting veteran Republican political adviser Karl Rove against Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, was littered with disagreement.

But on this, the two political heavyweights reached consensus: The race for president between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is too close to call.

In a lively 90-minute back-and-forth just hours prior to Monday evening's third and final presidential debate, the two seasoned operatives matched wits on the election, economic issues and foreign policy.

Much of the discussion centered on the machinations and strategy both Romney and Obama will employ to sway remaining undecided voters. Rove said he believes Romney will regain North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia, swing states Obama claimed four years ago. Dean sees a race so close that Obama may snare the electoral victory -- and remain in the White House -- even while losing the popular vote.

Rove said he thinks the race will be won in the Midwest, where Obama will have to convince voters they’re better off than they were in 2008 and where Romney will have to appear likable.

"It's going to come down to Ohio," said Rove, a top adviser to George W. Bush during his presidency. "Ohio will be very close and each side has its challenges."

Dean and Rove employed popular story lines to hammer the opposing party's candidate. Rove accused Obama of being absent on important foreign policy issues.

And Dean took a swipe at Romney for what many Democrats say is a penchant for shape-shifting his opinion to suit his audience.

"Gov. Romney has changed his view once, twice, and in the case of immigration, three times in one week," Dean charged. "I'm surprised people aren't more concerned."

Rove said the first presidential debate was a rare instance in which a participant -- Romney -- actually changed the course of the race with his performance. His message is resonating in the Tar Heel State, Rove said.

In North Carolina, the Obama campaign is reducing advertising spending levels, he said. "That's a sign that they know they're in trouble here."

Rove lived up to his reputation as a numbers-heavy policy wonk, dotting his arguments with jobs data and poll numbers. He even cited a Gallup Poll from 1980, citing the specific day -- Oct. 26 -- when Jimmy Carter held an eight-point lead over eventual winner Ronald Reagan.

In sparring over foreign policy, Rove argued for a continual military presence in Middle Eastern hotspots, lest some nations devolve into civil war or wind up under the rule of extremists in the absence of a peacekeeping force.

Dean said he is tired of so large an American military presence in that part of the world.

"We cannot police the entire world all the time," he thundered near the end of the debate. "We have to demand that other regions shoulder their responsibility."

The debate,  presented by the Ambassador Dave and Kay Phillips Family International Lectureship, was moderated by Duke political science and public policy professor Peter Feaver.

Below: Karl Rove talks with Duke students at a reception following the Monday debate.  Photo by Les Todd/Duke University Photography.

Karl Rove talks with students prior to the debate

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