Chris Christie plays a very different expectations game for Romney

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Gov. Christie on 'Face the Nation.' ()
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On Sunday morning, while most presidential-campaign surrogates on both sides were lowering expectations for their candidates' debate performances on Wednesday night, Gov. Chris Christie did the opposite.

"Every time Mitt Romney has been confronted in this campaign with one of these moments, he has come through in the debate and performed 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 ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "So I have absolute confidence that when we get to Thursday morning, George, you're all going to be shaking your head, saying it's a brand-new race with 33 days to go."

The comment wasn't an off-the-cuff tactical deviation; Christie was acting as Romney's chief spokesman on Sunday morning, appearing on three shows across the networks. And he repeated his prediction on each one.

"I'm telling you, Bob, Thursday morning, you're going to be scratching your heads and saying, 'Wow, we've a barnburner now for the next thirty-three days,'" he told Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation."

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"Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race will change," Christie said on "Meet the Press," calling Wednesday night the "restart" of the campaign.

Christie acknowledged that Romney had had a "tough couple of weeks," with the selection of Paul Ryan, and the Republican National Convention failing to catapult him in the polls, a problem that was compounded by the leaked video of the candidate assessing the "47 percent" of Obama voters at a fund-raiser, and questions about Romney's comments as a tense diplomatic situation unfolded in Egypt and Libya.

Christie's predictions were in keeping with his combatively optimistic bravado, but they also seemed to represent a kind of hedge, born of conflicting desires not to have the media place too much importance on Romney's debate performance, but  to have that same media buy into the "whole new ballgame" storyline.

On "Fox News Sunday," even as Christie was talking it up, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, downplayed the importance of the first debate, and emphasized Obama's talents as a "gifted speaker."

"The man's been on the national stage for many years," Ryan said. "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."

So did Senator John McCain, who said the debates now are too "scripted" to allow for the kinds of memorable one-liners that made past some past debates memorable.

“I can’t remember the last time there was one of the comments that grabbed everyone’s attention because the candidates are too well-prepared,” McCain said on CNN's "State of the Union."

The president's surrogates stuck to the usual pre-debate script.

“Challengers tend to benefit from debates," said top adviser David Plouffe. "We had expected all along that Governor Romney will have a good night. He’s prepared more than any candidate in history.”

Appearing at a rally in Nevada on Sunday evening, Obama tried to manage expectations himself.

"I know folks in the media are speculating already on who's going to have the best zingers," he said.

"You are!" yelled someone in the crowd.

"I don't know about that," the president said, continuing on, "Who's going to put the most points on the board."

"You are!" they yelled again.

"No, no, Governor Romney, he's a good debater," he said. "I'm just OK."

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