WASHINGTON — 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 their Monday face-off focused on foreign policy.
Republicans accused Obama of 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.
The haggling played out on Sunday news shows at a critical time for Romney and Obama, whose marathon race has become exceedingly close as it lurches toward its November conclusion. Early and absentee voting are already under way in many of the most competitive states, upping the pressure on both candidates to lock in supporters.
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.
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."