WASHINGTON — Days before the first U.S. presidential debate, President Obama and Mitt Romney prepared for the prime time showdown as their allies debated on Sunday how the encounter will influence the Nov. 6 election.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie predicted that the performance by Mr. Romney, a fellow Republican, would alter the course of the campaign.
“This whole race is going to turn upside down come Thursday morning,” Mr. Christie told CBS’ Face the Nation.
His comments strayed from the script of both campaigns, which have tried to play down their own candidate’s chances at the debate in Denver and talk up their opponent.
“I think what we need is a big and bold performance on Wednesday night, and that’s what he’s going to give us,” Mr. Christie said of Mr. Romney on ABC’s This Week.
Mr. Romney will enter the first of three presidential debates with poor poll figures in important battleground states as he seeks to recover from a leaked video where the former private equity executive described nearly half of Americans as dependent upon government and who view themselves as victims.
“We’ve had some missteps, but at the end of the day the choice is really clear,” Mr. Romney’s vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan told Fox News Sunday.
Mr. Ryan praised Mr. 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 Mr. Obama is gaining distance in the most competitive states.
Polls are tight, Mr. Ryan said, and will stay that way until the election Nov. 6.
“We’re running against an incumbent president with incredible resources,” Mr. Ryan said. “More importantly, I don’t think one event is going to make or break this campaign.”
Mr. 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.
Mr. Romney remained in Boston on Sunday, going through preparations of his own for Wednesday’s event.
The former Massachusetts governor wrote an opinion piece on foreign policy Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, accusing the Obama Administration of minimizing the seriousness of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and the other threats facing the United States in the region.
Mr. Romney writes, “our values have been misapplied — and misunderstood” by Mr. Obama.
He also wrote that Mr. Obama has distanced the United States from Israel.
Speaking to voters in a podcast released Saturday, Mr. Romney faulted Mr. 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,” Mr. Romney said. “And that places America and our friends and allies at the mercy of events and those who mean to do us harm.”
Obama aides also sought to downplay expectations for the debate.
Obama campaign spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters not to expect the President to match Mr. Romney in “zingers and special lines,” which she said the Romney campaign had been sharpening for months.
She also said Mr. Obama had not been able to devote as much time to prepping because of events in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“The President and Mitt Romney clearly view the debates as a very different opportunity. The President sees this as an opportunity to continue his conversation with the American people as he been doing over the last several months,” Ms. Psaki said on Air Force One.
“He wants to speak directly to the families — the people who are on their couches at home, having snacks, drinking a beer, drinking soda, whatever it is, and tuning in for the first time — and that’s who he’s speaking directly to.”
The White House and Mr. Obama’s campaign are guarding against complacency, with polls showing the Democrat ahead nationally by about 5 points, and more in some swing states.
In Ohio, Mr. Obama has a 9-point lead, according to a mail poll published Sunday by the Columbus Dispatch.
The newspaper said the poll shows the President leading Mr. Romney 51 percent to 42 percent. It shows Mr. Obama ahead among independent voters by three points and attracting slightly more GOP support than Mr. Romney is getting from Democrats.
Five percent of Ohio voters said they remain undecided.
“We’re not going to win battleground states by 10 or 12 points. This race is going to tighten. We’ve built a presidential campaign with a belief that it’s going to come down to a few votes in a few states,” White House adviser David Plouffe said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
As Mr. Obama hunkered down in Nevada, his aides continued to battle criticism from Republicans about the White House’s handling of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
The administration initially characterized the incident as a spontaneous demonstration gone awry, and later described it as an organized terrorist act by extremists with possible links to al-Qaeda.
Sen. Robert Corker (R., Tenn.) labeled the administration’s changing accounts “bizarre.”
In a letter to the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, Jr., Mr. Corker questioned whether the compound was adequately secured before the attack, in which the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed.
The administration welcomed scrutiny of the security of U.S. embassies, insisting that the safety of diplomats was a top priority for Mr. Obama, and was reviewing the security at diplomatic facilities around the world, Joshua Earnest, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters Sunday.