Paul Ryan acknowledged "missteps" Sunday in the Republican presidential campaign, as the party struggled to stay on message regarding expectations for Mitt Romney's upcoming debate performance.

The Republican vice presidential candidate downplayed expectations of Romney's debate performance, though fellow conservatives insisted the White House challenger would deliver a stellar presentation.

With Romney slipping in the polls ahead of the November 6 vote, the debates with Obama -- scheduled for October 3, 16 and 22 -- are seen as the last chance to swing the electorate in his favor.

A key Romney "misstep" was dismissing 47 percent of Americans as government-dependent "victims" in a closed-door fundraiser he held for wealthy donors that was caught on tape.

Ryan told "Fox News Sunday" that the comment was "an inarticulate way of describing" how Republicans are trying "to create prosperity and upward mobility, and reduce dependency by getting people off welfare back to work."

"We've had some missteps, but at the end of the day, the choice is really clear and we're giving people a very clear choice," he added.

Ryan insisted that no single debate would "make or break" the Republican campaign.

President Barack Obama is "a very gifted speaker," said Ryan. "The man's been on the national stage for many years. 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."

But he expressed confidence his team would win the race.

Senator John McCain -- the party's 2008 presidential candidate -- has debated both Romney and Obama.

"Both candidates are well-prepared, and understandably, you'll see their surrogates lowering expectations," McCain said on CNN's "State of the Union." "That's part of the whole routine."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a top Romney surrogate, appeared on ABC, NBC and CBS to insist the Republican candidate would deliver a game-changing performance.

"I think what we need is a big and bold performance on Wednesday night. And that's what he's going to give us. Got absolute confidence in that," Christie said on ABC's "This Week."

Speaking on CBS television's "Face the Nation," he said the first debate, when Romney gets on the same stage as Obama for the first time, would turn the race into a "barn burner."

"This whole race is going to turn upside down come Thursday morning," he said.

Top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod pounced on the contradictions.

Christie said the "Debate will turn race 'upside-down.' Ryan on Fox: 'I don't think any one event is going to make or break this campaign,'" Axelrod tweeted.

White House senior adviser David Plouffe played the traditional role of lowering expectations. Challengers "tend to do really well in debates. That's been the history," Plouffe said on "This Week."

"We believed all along that governor Romney probably has more benefit out of this debate potentially than we do," he said, adding that "we still believe this is going to be a close race."

Speaking later on "Meet the Press," Plouffe said that Christie was "just articulating what governor Romney's campaign believes: that they're going to change this race fundamentally."

Said Plouffe: "They've set the bar quite high."