WASHINGTON (AP) - On the eve of their final presidential debate, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama - through their allies - squared off Sunday over which candidate would best protect the nation's interests and security abroad with just two weeks left in a race that polls show is increasingly tight.
Both candidates stayed largely out of view, preparing vigorously for tonight's foreign policy face-off.
Republicans said Obama was leaking word of possible negotiations with Iran in pursuit of political gain. Democrats shot back, arguing that Romney and his party are the ones playing politics with national security.
Workers enter the debate hall ahead of todays presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
The haggling played out on Sunday news shows at a critical time for Romney and Obama, whose campaign has been lurching toward its November conclusion.
Two weeks out, the race appears to be tied, with both candidates taking 47 percent among likely voters in a Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll released Sunday that reflected a boost of support for Romney following his lauded performance in the first debate in early October.
Romney's top supporters launched sweeping condemnations of Obama's handling of foreign policy, assailing him over a deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and arguing that under the president's negligent watch, Iran has crept closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The third presidential debate will focus on foreign policy
and will begin at 9 p.m. today on major networks.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who played Obama in Romney's debate preparations, said a new report claiming the U.S. and Iran had agreed to direct negotiations seemed like "another example of a national security leak from the White House."
"They've done a lot of that," Portman said, alluding to accusations over the summer that Obama's administration was leaking information to bolster his political prospects ahead of the election. He was echoed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called the timing of the report "pretty obvious."
The White House said Saturday that while it is prepared for direct talks with Iran, there's no current agreement to meet. On Sunday, Obama's backers credited him for isolating Iran within the global community and adopting effective sanctions that have crippled the Persian Gulf nation.
"For two years, the president traveled the world putting together a withering international coalition. And now the sanctions that they agreed on are bringing the Iranian economy to its knees," said David Axelrod, a senior Obama adviser. "They're feeling the heat. And that's what the sanctions were meant to do."
Romney's supporters waxed optimistic that the race is trending in the Republican's direction, even in crucial states like Ohio that Obama won four years ago and where unemployment is on the decline. Portman said he's traversed his home state over the past two weeks on behalf of Romney and likes what he's seeing on the ground.
"The enthusiasm energy is on our side this year. I mean, it's not like 2008 at all," he said.