‘Coming for your wallet’: Christie keeps focus on Clinton, at feisty early debate

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fought to keep the focus squarely on Hillary Clinton at the first of two GOP debates Tuesday evening, warning the Democratic front-runner is “coming for your wallet” – even as the candidates on stage sparred over their own fiscal records.

The evening debate in Milwaukee, hosted by Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal, preceded the prime-time debate with higher-polling candidates. But even though Christie and the three others are struggling in the polls, the New Jersey governor in particular made a point of training his criticism on the candidate leading the Democratic field.

On issue after issue, Christie warned a Clinton presidency would worsen America’s economic woes and move the country to the left, leading to more spending. 

Citing her past drive for health care reform during the Bill Clinton administration, Christie alleged Clinton would push toward a single-payer system and “completely nationalize the federal health care system.” Accusing her of running to the left, he said Clinton would represent “four more years of Barack Obama’s policies.”

Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the first time Tuesday did not qualify for the prime-time debate. But going into the night, Christie had tried to downplay the implications of that – and on stage, still touted his ability to go up against Clinton in a general election.

They were joined on stage by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who bluntly challenged the other candidates on their records cutting spending and growing the economy.

Christie initially tried to referee a dispute over government spending between Jindal and Huckabee by returning to his theme: Clinton.

“She is the real adversary tonight,” Christie said, warning she’d “drown us” in debt and adding, “Hillary Clinton’s coming for your wallet.”

Jindal then turned his criticism to Christie, questioning his ability to cut spending and citing credit downgrades in New Jersey while touting his own record.

“Let’s not just beat Hillary. Let’s elect a conservative to the White House,” Jindal countered.

Christie said he’s been called a lot of names in New Jersey, but “a liberal’s not one of them.”

The candidates debated mostly over taxes and the economy and spending – while at times taking aim at the IRS.

Christie said he would get rid of special interest deductions virtually across the board. “Everyone will get lower rates,” Christie said. “The good thing – I’ll be able to fire a whole bunch of IRS agents once we do that.”

Huckabee, calling for a so-called “fair tax” to eliminate taxes on productivity, tried to out-do Christie in his plans for the IRS.

“We don’t reduce the IRS [under my plan],” he said. “We get rid of the IRS.”

Santorum pitched a 20 percent flat tax, while calling to get rid of “all sorts of really corrupt incentives.”

The candidates faced off in Milwaukee ahead of a prime-time debate featuring the eight highest-polling contenders. The early debate also marked the first time South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki did not qualify for the evening debate.

Christie and Huckabee are each averaging just above 2 percent in national polls, while Jindal and Santorum are averaging below 1 percent.