So much for minimizing expectations.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the keynote speaker at last month’s Republican National Convention, boldly predicted on Sunday that this week’s presidential debate will mark a turning point for GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who trails President Obama in key states, according to recent polls.
“Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change,” Christie said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“You saw the change in those polls happen very quickly, and I’m here to tell you this morning it can happen very quickly back the other way,” Christie added. “And I think the beginning of that is Wednesday night, when Governor Romney, for the first time, gets on the same stage as the president of the United States, and people can make a direct comparison about them and their visions for the future.’’
Christie’s confident message was dramatically different from statements made during the runup to the debate by other Romney surrogates, who have cast their candidate as the underdog against Obama.
Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, hailed the president as a “very gifted speaker” on “Fox News Sunday.”
“The man’s been on the national stage for many years. He’s an experienced debater, he’s done these kinds of debates before,” Ryan said. “This is Mitt’s first time on this kind of a stage.”
Ryan also downplayed the importance of the first debate, which will focus on domestic policy. “I don’t think one event is going to make or break this campaign,” he said.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee four years ago, sent the same signal on CNN’s “State of the Union.” McCain predicted record viewership of Wednesday’s debate but no breakthrough moments.
“I can’t remember the last time there was one of these comments that grabbed everybody’s attention because, frankly, the candidates are too well prepared,” McCain said. “They’re well scripted.”
But Christie suggested the debate will be significant because voters are “going to be able to see these two candidates next to each other” for the first time and because many voters have not paid close attention to the race until now.
“They’re going to start tuning in on Wednesday night and when they do, Governor Romney is going to lay out his vision for a better and greater America, for greater opportunity for all of our citizens,” Christie said. “And I think that’s when you’re going to see this race really start to tighten and then move in Governor Romney’s direction.”
David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign who appeared on “Meet the Press” after Christie, quickly used the New Jersey governor’s remarks in an attempt to put all the debate pressure on Romney.
“I think Governor Christie is just articulating what Governor Romney’s campaign believes, that they’re going to change this race fundamentally,” Plouffe said.
If Christie is right, Plouffe said, “that means seven or 10 days from now, you’ll see states like Ohio tied, states like Iowa tied.”
“That’s the standard they’ve set, which is ‘we want this race fundamentally changed after this debate.’ And we’ll all be able to measure that,” Plouffe added.Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.