ANALYSIS: Raising The Stakes, Lowering Expectations

VIDEO: The Republican nominee talks to David Muir about the presidential race.
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ANALYSIS:

Will Mitt Romney get the game changer he needs in next week's presidential debate?

Even as the Republican presidential nominee has been touting President Obama's debating chops ("The president is obviously a very eloquent, gifted speaker," Romney told Fox News this week. "He'll do just fine."), he's also been raising the stakes for his own performance.

In an interview with ABC's David Muir yesterday in Toledo, Ohio Romney pointed to the first debate -- one week from last night -- as a potential turning point in the race.

"We have a chance during the debate to make our message clear to the American people," the former Massachusetts governor told Muir, "and I'm absolutely convinced that when people see the two of us talk about our direction for America they're going to support me because I know what it takes to make the economy going again, and the president has proven he does not."

In the ABC News interview, Romney declined to predict whether he would "win" it, but said he planned to "describe very clearly what I will do to get America working again and the President will describe his own view, and I believe the American people are going to side with me."

Whatever happens on the debate stage next week, it will be hard to argue that either of the candidates will be unprepared. Romney has so far not scheduled any campaign events this weekend and campaign aides say that debate practice is on the agenda.

President Obama will head to Henderson, Nev., on Sunday for three days of debate prep behind closed doors, ABC News' Devin Dwyer reports. To date, Obama has attended a handful of two- to three-hour prep sessions at Democratic National Committee headquarters with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is standing in as Romney.

Both sides are playing the expectations game, with Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki this week, arguing that President Obama "will have less time than we anticipated" to prepare for the face-off. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski countered that "the idea a president who is known for his world class oratory, is a world-class debater who laid waste to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John McCain, will be unprepared debates is absurd."

Here's what's clear: Once the hour-and-a-half sparring session that will take place at the University of Denver next week is over, the expectations game won't matter one bit. It will be all about how each candidate performed in front of a television audience of millions.

There's no doubt that this is being seen as crucial moment. Teams of campaign aides from Obama headquarters in Chicago and from Romney headquarters in Boston are planning to be on hand in Colorado for the event.

BOTTOM LINE: As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out: At next week's debate, the pressure is on Romney to make something happen. The pressure is on Obama to make sure nothing happens.

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