Romney To Seize Debate

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a fundraising event at the Union League, Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, in Philadelphia.

Analysis:

Evidently, Chris Christie didn't get the memo.

Or did he?

The New Jersey governor appeared to take a 180-degree detour from Romney campaign talking points on Sunday, ratcheting up -- rather than lowering -- expectations for Wednesday night's debate.

"Every time Mitt Romney has been confronted in this campaign with one of these moments, he has come through in the debate and performing extraordinarily well, laying out his vision very clearly, and also contrasting himself and his vision with whoever his opponent was at that time," Christie told Stephanopoulos. "I have absolute confidence that, when we get to Thursday morning, George, all you're going to be shaking your head, saying it's a brand-new race with 33 days to go."

It was a departure from the tone set yesterday by Romney's own running mate, Paul Ryan, who previewed the face-to-face meeting between Romney and Obama in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

"President Obama is a very -- he's a very gifted speaker," Ryan said. "The man's been on the national stage for many years, he's an experienced debater, he's done these kinds of debates before. This is Mitt's first time on this kind of a stage."

But, as it turns out, Christie was just following the leader.

In a series of interviews over the last few weeks -- some of the toughest for the GOP candidate -- Romney, himself, has been pointing to the first presidential debate as a high-stakes event that could be a potential turning point for him.

"We have a chance during the debate to make our message clear to the American people," Romney told ABC's David Muir in Ohio last week, "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."

And in a mid-September interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Romney was asked whether the trifecta of October debates would be a "make or break moment" in the race.

"It may well be a decisive point in the in the campaign to have three debates and also the vice presidential debate," Romney said. "You know, you don't know -- sometimes there's something big that happens and they become deciding."

As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out, the fact is Romney and his surrogates really don't have to worry about downplaying expectations for the debates. Voters already see him as the underdog.

Just 29 percent of registered voters in a today's ABC News-Washington Post poll think the GOP challenger will win the debates compared to 56 percent who say Obama will prevail. (Even a quarter of Republicans think that Obama will win them.)

What is clear is that voters will be tuning in. Republicans are just as committed to following the debates as their Democratic counterparts. 53 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans say they are very interested in the upcoming contests.

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