Ryan rejects need for breakthrough moment

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 and economic debate in Denver "the restart of this

campaign."

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.

Accompanying him

was a cadre of advisers assisting with debate prep, including

chief of staff Jack Lew, top economic adviser Gene Sperling,

pollster Joel Benenson and speechwriter Jon Favreau. Sen. John

Kerry, D-Mass., who is playing Romney in debate prep, was traveling

to Nevada separately.

Romney remained in Boston on Sunday, going through preparations of his own for Wednesday's event.

Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, said on "Fox

News Sunday" that the debate would mark Romney's debut "on this kind of

stage."

Romney participated in more than two dozen multicandidate debates

during White House runs in 2008 and 2012, and went one-on-one

against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., during a losing 1994 Senate

bid.

"They expect to come out of this with the

race fundamentally changed. Now, what does that mean?" asked David

Plouffe, a senior

White House adviser. "If it's going to fundamentally change, that

means in seven or 10 days from now you'll see states like

Ohio tied, the state of Iowa tied because that's what really

matters here. So they have set the bar quite high."

Christie said Romney needs to "tell the truth about what's going on" in the country while laying out "a positive and hopeful

vision for the future."

"I think he can do both. Listen, Mitt Romney can walk and chew gum at the same time. I'm not worried," Christie said.

Ryan acknowledged errors by the campaign but urged Republicans who are publicly carping to join him on the trail to witness

the forceful case they're making.

"We've had some missteps, but at the end of the day, the choice is really clear," Ryan said, adding that up until now, he

and Romney "have not been able to frame that choice as clearly."

The campaign has suffered from the release

of a hidden-camera video of Romney calling 47 percent of Americans

victims who

depend on government help. Almost two weeks after the video's

release, the matter continues to dog Romney, featuring prominently

in Obama's campaign ads.

Republicans, meanwhile, continued

challenging Obama's foreign policy, saying his approach had contributed

to unrest across

the Middle East. Ryan cited Syria, Iran, Russia and Israel as

countries where the "ugly fruits" of Obama's policies are unraveling.

Romney, speaking to voters in a podcast

released Saturday, faulted Obama for presiding over a decline in the

nation's moral

standing and a retreat of American leadership. "President Obama's

foreign policy is one of passivity and denial," Romney said.

"And that places America and our friends and allies at the mercy

of events and those who mean to do us harm."

Ryan, looking ahead to his lone debate on Oct. 11, said he expected Vice President Joe Biden would be highly disciplined despite

a reputation for verbal slip-ups,

"He's fast on the cuff. He's a witty guy. He knows who he is and he's been doing this for 40 years," said Ryan. "You're not

going to rattle Joe Biden."

Plouffe appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week." Christie spoke on NBC, ABC and CBS' "Face the Nation."