IT WAS as if Gov. Chris Christie was speaking from an alternative universe on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Not only did he hype expectations for Mitt Romney’s debate performance this Wednesday, but he implied the race would get a reset. When you look at Gallup today, which reveals the demographic challenges, that notion seems absolutely inconceivable. Mitt Romney’s performance as the nominee, but also his campaign’s ineptitude, has paled in comparison to what’s required to beat an incumbent president.

How else can you explain Romney losing with the economy and unemployment numbers as fragile as they are?

With a month before the elections now pressing down on the Romney campaign, early voting in full swing, the universe of polling now reveals the odds decidedly against Romney doing enough to overtake Obama.

Right now, our forecast says that Mr. Romney has only about a 15 percent chance of winning. But that does not mean that he only has a 15 percent chance of tightening the race ““ or of making it come down to the wire. – Nate Silver

The race crystallized a couple of weeks ago.

What the debate really needs to do for Mitt Romney is to keep his hopes alive.

Romney’s got to perform well enough in Wednesday’s debate to keep Republicans on board and I’m not just talking about average voters on his side. Romney’s got to make a move so big donors and insider Republicans believe he can not just close the gap, but has a chance to overtake Obama in the closing weeks. Otherwise the money will begin to drop off and the last weeks of the campaign will turn into Republicans trying to save Congress.

Unfortunately for Republicans, this means they can’t afford to bail on Romney completely, because if Karl Rove sends the message that it’s lost the bottom will drop out and Democrats will not only win the White House, but put Democrats back in power in the House, as well as keep the Senate.

That would be a gift to Obama, who is looking at the coming inevitability of lame duck status every second term president faces. If he could get a Democratic majority when his second term power is at its peak it would be a monumental boost for what he could accomplish on legacy.

By 2014, Obama’s power will have ebbed, with 2016 gearing up, so this election for control of Congress means a lot more than is getting currently covered in the media, which is obsessed with making the election a horse race when Romney’s still not proven he can make it one.

That’s what Mitt Romney must prove in the debate this week. Though how he turns the numbers Gallup is reporting today around is not only unknown but doubtful.