WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's running mate shot down the need for a breakthrough in the first presidential debate Wednesday, trying to allay Republican concerns that the race is slipping away with five weeks to go and momentum on President Barack Obama's side.
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, working to keep debate expectations for Romney in check, praised Obama's debating skills and called the Democratic incumbent "a very gifted speaker" with years of experience on the national stage.
He played down signs that Obama is gaining distance in the most competitive states. Polls are tight, Ryan said, and will stay that way until the election Nov. 6.
"We're running against an incumbent president with incredible resources," Ryan said. "More importantly, I don't think one event is going to make or break this campaign."
Yet at the same time, a prominent Romney supporter said he expected Romney's performance in Denver on Wednesday night would shake up the campaign after a "tough couple of weeks." Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., predicted Romney would do "extraordinarily well" in the debate, and that come Thursday morning, "this whole race is going to be turned upside down."
Romney is trying to rebound from a difficult September, and the three October debates offer a chance to help show that the race is winnable. Christie, who passed on a 2012 run for the White House but is a possible contender in 2016, called the domestic policy
That confidence from a high-profile backer comes even as Americans are growing more optimistic about the economy and Obama's leadership, creating a significant obstacle for Romney.
Polls show Obama with a steady lead in many of the nine states where the candidates are competing most fiercely. If the election were held today, an Associated Press analysis shows Obama would win at least 271 electoral votes, enough for re-election. The analysis is intended to provide a snapshot of a race that until recently has been stubbornly close in the small number of the most contested states.
Obama headed to Las Vegas for an evening rally and planned to stay in Nevada as he prepared for the debate.
Romney remained in Boston on Sunday, going through preparations of his own for Wednesday's event.