In New Hampshire, Christie touts role as prosecutor, tears into Cruz, Paul and Rubio

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WEARE, N.H. For Chris Christie, Nov. 13 marked a turning point one that was reinforced Dec. 2 to focus his presidential campaign on terrorism and fighting the Islamic State.

“Three week ago, everything changed,” said the New Jersey governor and contender for the  Republican presidential nomination, speaking to a couple of hundred people at a town meeting-style gathering on Saturday. He referred to the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris and the Islamic State-inspired massacre in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.

While issues such as health care and education remain important, he said, “they don’t mean anything if we can’t provide safety.”

On that issue, the former federal prosecutor clearly sees an advantage over rivals for the GOP nod, as he repeatedly reminded those gathered in a Weare middle school of his time as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, the top U.S. Justice Department position in the state, before he won election to the governor’s office in the Garden State. None of the other Republicans in the race can boast that kind of home-front experience in the war on terror.

Christie, in his second term as New Jersey’s governor, stressed that prosecutorial experience while criticizing the positions taken by some of his rivals on such issues as the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. In particular, he focused on senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who have both opposed the programs to spot references to terrorist organizations or connections to such groups in phone calls and other forms of electronic communication.

Christie, who supports surveillance by the agency as a counterterrorism measure, told the crowd in Weare that government snoops have no interest in spying on average citizens. They’re just trying to find those few who may be in communication with known terrorist organizations or their supporters.

Cruz voted for the USA Freedom Act in June, putting limits on the the agency’s surveillance activities and on other government organizations such as the FBI in their attempts to monitor suspects inside the U.S. and Americans abroad. Paul didn’t vote for it only because the act didn’t go far enough in curtailing these activities, according to National Public Radio.

Christie condemned the act in his presentation in Weare. Lawmakers who, like Cruz and Paul, would weaken those investigative powers “have weakened America’s security,” Christie said. He added that Cruz and Paul have taken stands against the security agency for political reasons and to win the approval of donors.

“It’s not their fault,” Christie said, “they just don’t know what they’re talking about.” Referring to the security programs and how they operate, he said: “They don’t know how it works, because they’ve had no experience with it.”

Christie told the crowd that he was familiar with the way the agencies conducted surveillance because of his experience as a federal prosecutor. He added that surveillance is part of his proposed platform for combatting Islamic State forces and its sympathizers inside the U.S. The key to winning, he said, is to be able to find and stop terrorists before they can strike.

Christie also singled out rivals Donald Trump, the New York billionaire and reality television star,  and Marco Rubio, the U.S. senator from Florida, telling that crowd that unlike other candidates, he was running to lead, not to gain in ways unrelated to public service.

“I’m not running for president of the United States to make my brand more valuable, I’m not running for president of the United States to sell books,” he said. He told the crowd that when it comes to national security, Americans need a person who has the experience and conviction to lead.

As for Rubio, he questioned why the junior senator from the Sunshine State couldn’t say that he had missed many floor votes in the chamber because he wanted to be on the campaign trail. Instead, Rubio has said of the votes he has missed that his vote would not have made a difference. Christie recently edged Rubio for second behind Trump in the latest WBUR-FM poll of New Hampshire voters.

Who would you like to see become the next president of the United States?

The first presidential primary will take place in New Hampshire on Feb. 9. (Massachusetts voters get to weigh in on “Super Tuesday,” March 1.)  For whom will you vote to be your party’s standard bearer?

Bush, Jeb (R)

Carson, Ben (R)

Christie, Chris (R)

Clinton, Hillary (D)

Cruz, Ted (R)

Fiorina, Carly (R)

Gilmore, Jim (R)

Graham, Lindsey (R)

Huckabee, Mike (R)

Kasich, John (R)

O’Malley, Martin (D)

Pataki, George (R)

Paul, Rand (R)

Rubio, Marco (R)

Sanders, Bernie (D)

Santorum, Rick (R)

Trump, Donald (R)

None of the above