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“I think to close out this discussion,” he said, “it would be better to put into perspective what we’re talking about. I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry — and the control of nuclear arms.”

A nice line, but was the president actually taking counsel from his 12-year-old daughter? In the span of a few minutes, the challenger looked like commander in chief — and Americans knew it. The Republican, berated by a liberal press for months, had slipped past the media and dropped directly into living rooms across the country.

But it was Mr. Reagan’s closer that killed (as an actor and entertainer, he no doubt knew one must always go out on a high note). Looking into the camera, he laid out the simple choice America had:

“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday, all of you will go to the polls and stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision it might be well if you would ask yourself: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions ‘yes,’ why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for.

“If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have,” he said.

Mr. Romney will need to present just such a stark choice for voters in the debates.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes.com.