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Mitt Romney as self-appointed debate referee? A man who lives by rules

When it comes to presidential debates – and most other things – Mitt Romney is a stickler for the rules. Watch for it during Monday's presidential debate.

By Josh LedermanAssociated Press / October 22, 2012

Republican presidential candidate. Mitt Romney speaks while President Barack Obama listens during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. When it comes to debates, Mitt Romney takes on not just his opponent but the moderator.

AP Photo/David Goldman/ File

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When it comes to debates, Mitt Romney loves the rules.

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The eyes of millions of voters upon him, the Republican candidate is quick to poke holes in his rival's arguments. But he's just as ready to take the moderator to task when he believes the predetermined ground rules have been breached.

Expect more of the same Monday when he and President Barack Obama square off for the third and final time.

Romney bickered with moderator Jim Lehrer in the first presidential debate over whose turn it was to have the final say on taxes. "Jim, the president began this segment, so I think I get the last word," he said. He lodged a similar complaint in the second debate when denied one last chance to weigh in, prompting moderator Candy Crowley to interject that "it doesn't quite work like that."

"The last part, it's for the two of you to talk to one another, and it isn't quite as ordered as you think," she said.

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It is that ordered for Romney, who seems at his best and most relaxed in settings with clearly defined parameters that many others experience as overly rigid or stilted. Romney's fondness for the rules mirrors other traits that have been frequent themes throughout his personal and professional life: organization, personal discipline and meticulous attention to detail.

For voters, it offers a window into the fastidiousness and precision he would likely bring with him to the Oval Office.

"He's highly analytical, highly linear in his thinking," said Doug Gross, who chaired Romney's 2008 campaign in Iowa. "When someone steps out of line and your logic is linear, that causes dissonance in your brain."

Romney's partiality to rules in the debate setting was on display throughout the Republican primary, where he resisted efforts by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to relax them. Gingrich, whose come-from-behind victory in South Carolina in January was fueled by robust debate performances, wanted audiences to be able to participate more freely in future debates.

Not so fast, said Romney, arguing that candidates seeking the nomination ought to be prepared for the much stricter rules imposed during general-election debates.

You might have thought Romney himself was the moderator in a debate last October when he cut off Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lay down the letter of the law.

"You get 30 seconds," Romney told his opponent. "The way the rules work here is that I get 60 seconds, and then you get 30 seconds to respond, right?"

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