Must win: Debate advice for Romney from former McCain-Palin aide

Rick Klein, Amy Walter, Richard Coolidge & Sherisse Pham
Power Players

Top Line

The first presidential debate is just a week away, and with Mitt Romney trailing in the latest polls, the pressure is on for him to turn things around. Nicolle Wallace is a former adviser to President George W. Bush, as well as John McCain's 2008 campaign, and she knows a little something about prepping candidates for debates. Wallace was closely involved with prepping vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for her VP debate.

Even as Romney's campaign attempts to lower expectations, many are saying that a successful debate could be one of Romney's last opportunities to turn the momentum his way.

"The opportunity for Romney is there," says Wallace, an ABC News contributor. "He could come out there and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a sitting president and elevate himself and his campaign and have a great night, and that could ... really re-boot this whole race."

Leading up to the debates, the Romney campaign has to "break free from this narrative that their campaign is in a tail spin," says Wallace.

"They do seem to be losing week after week to their own self-inflicted mistakes, the perception has seeped in," says Wallace. "You're seeing it in the numbers, you're seeing them fall way behind in the key battleground states."

On the vice presidential side, Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, knows a lot about domestic issues, but lacks the international chops of Vice President Joe Biden. And no doubt, Wallace says, he's cramming.

"He is going to be prepared, and he's going to be able to come out of the box and echo a lot of the really harsh criticisms that Romney has been leveling at the Obama White House over national security, particularly the Middle East," Wallace says.

Looking ahead to the presidential and vice presidential debates, the Romney campaign must get a few things done and get a boost from those four events to get back into the race.

"First thing, do no harm," Wallace advises. "They have to stop harming their own ability to communicate. And I heard them say they were going to start trying to drive a message. And it's a great idea, and one that they should have tried earlier this summer."

For more of Nicolle Wallace's advice to the Romney campaign, including the message they should be pushing, check out this week's Top Line.