Christie speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
While both Democrats and Republicans have downplayed the importance of the first presidential debate in recent days, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie raised the stakes on Sunday, predicting this week's duel in Denver will be a game changer for Mitt Romney.
"Wednesday night's the restart of this campaign," Christie told David Gregory on NBC's "Meet The Press." "Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change."
Christie dismissed the recent polls that have President Obama leading Romney in nine battleground states.
"You saw the change in those polls happen very quickly," Christie said. "And I'm here to tell you this morning, it can happen very quickly back the other way. And I think the beginning of that is Wednesday night when Governor 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.
"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," he continued. "And also, for the first time, you're going to have them be able to make a direct, side-by-side comparison. Remember, at the end of the day, campaigns are about the candidates. And they're going to be able to see these two candidates next to each other, debating each other. And Governor Romney I know is going to do a great job on Wednesday night laying out his vision for America's future and making the contrast between he and the president of the United States."
Christie also dismissed criticism of Romney--who he referred to as "the future of this party"--from fellow Republicans.
"Folks like us obsess about this stuff," Christie said. "But I've got to tell you something: The general public that I speak to in New Jersey and elsewhere are just beginning to really tune into this race. And so they're going to start tuning in on Wednesday night, and when they do, Governor Romney's lay out his vision for a better and greater America, for greater opportunity for all of our citizens. And I think that's when you're going to see this race really start to tighten and then move in Governor Romney's direction."
President Obama, Gov. Christie said, is "just trying to run out the clock" in the race for the White House.
"He desperately wants to run out the clock with platitudes which sound nice, and I give him that," Christie said. "The president's very good at that. But in the end, I think that both sides have to look at this campaign and say, 'What are we going to lay out over the next 36 days?' And that's I think what's really important. And I think Governor Romney will lay out some very important points over the next 36 days that are going to make people believe once and for all that America can be great again, not just staggering along here economically as we've been doing."