Christie shifts focus to Bush, Kasich down stretch

Sergio Bustos and Bill Barrow
Associated Press
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listens to a question during a campaign event Sunday in Hampton, N.H.

Manchester, N.H. — N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, fresh from a vigorous debate performance in which he battered Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as unprepared for the presidency, told a town hall crowd Sunday in Hampton, New Hampshire, that his exchanges with Rubio showed “who’s ready. I am. He’s not.”

Then he shifted his focus to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, as the three governors battle for many of the same voters in an effort to remain relevant beyond New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire primary Tuesday is the nation’s first and the next in a series of clues into what Americans want in their next president.

Christie offered Kasich praise-with-a-punch, calling him an effective leader of Ohio but saying Kasich’s tenure is “like Candy Land” because he’s worked with a GOP-run legislature, versus the Democratic legislature Christie works with in New Jersey.

Taking a jab at Bush, Christie said, “Go to Jeb today and ask him how the joy is going,” a reference to Bush’s promise last summer to be “the joyful candidate” among Republicans.

In several appearances Sunday, Kasich avoided direct attacks on his fellow governors.

Donald Trump, who finished second in Iowa, is pleased with his debate performance and place atop New Hampshire’s GOP polls.

Bush opted to take on Trump, and chided other candidates for not piling on. In Nashua, Bush said, “This guy is not a serious conservative and he’s not a serious leader. And no one else is taking him on?”

The three governors have pitched their experience to GOP voters for months, but have struggled to keep Rubio from establishing himself as the alternative to Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Iowa.

Rubio was rattled by Christie’s debate onslaught Saturday, repeating his standard critique of President Barack Obama several times and playing into Christie’s argument that the first-term senator is a scripted, inexperienced politician from a do-nothing Congress.

“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable,” Christie told Rubio. “You just simply haven’t.”

Rubio was back on message Sunday. “People said, ‘Oh, you said the same thing three or four times.’ I’m going to say it again,” Rubio said in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

Rubio said earlier on ABC’s “This Week” that his belief about Obama’s job performance is “one of the main reasons why I am running.”

Rubio is touting his overall campaign momentum after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, hoping to use that momentum to boost his chances in Tuesday’s contest.

Trump, who was to campaign later Sunday, continued to insist in a CNN appearance that he came in first in Iowa, losing only because representatives of the Cruz campaign spread false rumors that Ben Carson was dropping out. Trump says Carson backers switched their votes to Cruz.

“I don’t think I have to win,” New Hampshire to keep his place among the top contenders for the nomination, Trump said Sunday on CNN, emphasizing, however, that he wants to win first.

On NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, Trump stood by his promise in Saturday’s debate to reinstitute waterboarding as an interrogation method for foreign prisoners of the U.S.

The practice, accepted as torture internationally and now forbidden by U.S. law, is “peanuts” compared to what Islamic State group members practice, Trump said. “I’d go a lot further than waterboarding,” Trump said.

Cruz is not expected to fare as well in New Hampshire as in Iowa, but he made memorable marks in Saturday’s debate, first repeating his apology to Carson for the false rumors and later offering an emotional account of his half-sister’s drug addiction and eventual death.

On the Democratic side, New Hampshire favorite Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — who narrowly won Iowa — are avoiding predictions about Tuesday and looking beyond to South Carolina and Nevada, the next two states up in the nomination process.

Sanders drew another large crowd Sunday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he reprised his indictment of a “rigged economy” and “corrupt campaign finance system.”

Taking a break from the New Hampshire campaign trail, Clinton stopped in Flint, urging Congress to approve $200 million to fix the city’s water system and vowing to “fight for you in Flint no matter how long it takes.”