Before first US presidential debate, allies debate stakes
* Christie predicts meeting will turn race "upside down"
* Romney running mate Ryan admits campaign missteps
By Samuel P. Jacobs
WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Three days before the first U.S. presidential debate, allies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated on Sunday how the encounter between the White House contenders will influence the U.S. election.
In typical straight-talking fashion, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie predicted that fellow Republican Romney's performance at Wednesday's debate would alter the course of the campaign, weeks before the Nov. 6 vote.
"This whole race is going to turn upside down come Thursday morning," 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, thus making it easer to claim victory or explain a defeat on Wednesday.
"I think what we need is a big and bold performance on Wednesday night, and that's what he's going to give us," Christie said of Romney on ABC's "This Week."
Romney comes into the first of three presidential debates with poor poll figures in important battleground states and as he seeks to recover from a leaked secret video where the former private equity executive described nearly half of Americans as dependents on government who view themselves as victims.
"We've had some missteps, but at the end of the day the choice is really clear," Romney's vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan told "Fox News Sunday."
Ryan lowered the stakes for Romney's debate performance.
"I don't think any one event is going to make or break this campaign," Ryan said.
Obama departed for Nevada, where he will bunker down with aides in a "debate camp."
But Obama was not focused just on scoring points against his rival, senior adviser David Plouffe told NBC's "Meet the Press."
"I think the president's view is, he's not worried about zingers and lines, he's got time with the American people to explain to them his case for re-election," he said.
Obama was joined on Air Force One by Plouffe, chief of staff Jack Lew, economic adviser Gene Sperling, and speechwriter Jon Favreau.
The White House and Obama's campaign are guarding against complacency, with polls showing the Democrat ahead nationally by around 5 points, and much more in some swing states.
"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," Plouffe said.
A PARTY AND PREP
Romney remained in Boston for private meetings, including debate preparation, at his campaign headquarters.
Not all of Romney's hours have been devoted to studying and sparring with his debate partner, U.S. Senator Rob Portman.
On Saturday evening, Romney attended a party at the Wellesley, Massachusetts, home of his finance chair, Spencer Zwick.
With a stretched Hummer limousine blaring party music and several school buses parked outside the home, chants of "Mitt!" could be heard from within. Romney departs for Denver on Monday.
His wife, Ann, will campaign in Nevada and Ryan will embark on a bus tour of eastern Iowa on Monday.
Both are swing states, critical victories on the path to presidency, where Romney has trailed in recent polls.
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