WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are spending Monday prepping for their first debate Wednesday, except that, as the president's team likes to point out, he still has his day job as president. Obama has been so busy he hasn't been able to practice as much as anticipated, spokesman Jen Psaki said Sunday.
That's an example of lowering expectations.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- in an unusual move -- on Sunday raised expectations for Romney in the Denver debate, claiming that Romney will do so well against Obama that he will be able to "restart" his lagging campaign.
Christie, a top surrogate for Romney, was asked by David Gregory, host of NBC's "Meet the Press." "is the race over?"
Replied Christie, "absolutely not," coming back with a strong rejoinder, parked between two difficult places: Say the unthinkable and agree that Romney may not catch up with Obama -- ahead in battleground state polls -- or come up with a reason the contest is not over.
Election fortunes can change swiftly, Christie said.
"And I think the beginning of that is Wednesday night when Gov. Romney for the first time gets on the same stage with the president of the United States and people can make a direct comparison about them and their visions for the future," Christie said.
"And Wednesday night's the restart of this campaign. And I think you're going to see those numbers start to move right back in the other direction. . . . You're going to have tens of millions of people for the very first time, David, really tuning in and paying attention to this race. And also, for the first time, you're going to have them be able to make a direct, side-by-side comparison."
Well, not 100 percent paying attention, because the Obama team, trying to think of everything, is factoring in the element that people will be eating and drinking during the debate, though it doesn't seem like they are expecting wild parties as the rivals discuss domestic policy.
"This will be a very large audience," Psaki said. "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."
Psaki, downplaying the impact of the debate -- the first of three -- pegged it as just another event on the march to Election Day.
She said Obama sees the debate "as an opportunity to continue his conversation with the American people as he has been doing over the last several months, including at the convention, which was probably our largest audience to date."
Obama flew from Washington to battleground Nevada on Sunday to set up a debate camp at the Westin Lake Las Vegas resort in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb.
Romney flies from Boston to Denver today -- with each contender leveraging the prep time by spending it in a battleground state.
The uphill climb for Romney got steeper on Sunday, when an Associated Press analysis found in its snapshot of the race that Obama is on a path to win at least 271 electoral votes to 206 for Romney.
It takes 270 to clinch the White House and shows that the road for Romney has grown narrower: in order to beat Obama, Romney will have to win battlegrounds Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia and either Ohio or Iowa.
I noted in my Sunday column about the upcoming debate that Obama's main problem isn't Romney as much as his own verbosity, since the last time anyone had the nerve to cut off his long-winded riffs was in the October 2008 third and final debate with GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.
Psaki took note of this potential problem and Sunday said they were working on it.
Obama "has a tendency to give longer, substantive answers. It's just his nature. That's something clearly we're working on," she said.
Unlike Christie, who was off message on the debates, vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan was sticking to the script talking to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."
Shrugging off the debate impact, Ryan said, "I don't think one event is going to make or break this campaign."