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WOLFEBORO, N.H. – In a Republican primary increasingly focused on national security, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is painting a picture of a dangerous world that he is the candidate best prepared to lead.
"We know that we're in the midst of the next world war. It's a world war that's not going to look like the first two that we engaged in," Christie told a crowd Friday night in New Hampshire. "As our country confronts that issue, all those other issues seem real small now."
Christie is seeing his candidacy pick up steam in the first primary state, in part because of the new national focus on security and terrorism in the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Christie avoided criticizing his rivals by name in Friday's town hall, instead recounting his own family's scare on 9/11 because Christie's wife, Mary Pat, worked near New York's Twin Towers, which were attacked that day.
But in an earlier interview with The Associated Press, Christie suggested two of his chief Republican rivals don't have the right experience or priorities to keep the country safe.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Christie said, hurt the country by voting against extending the National Security Agency's bulk collection program of phone records which ended days before the shooting in California. Christie advocates reinstating the program and giving law enforcement and intelligence agencies more ways to track terrorism.
"You can't, in these dangerous times, take tools away from the government, and he's made the country weaker," Christie said of Cruz.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Christie is battling for second place in the state, simply doesn't have the necessary experience, he said.
"He's not ready to be president, he's a first-term U.S. senator, we just went through that," Christie said. "You can't do on-the-job training with the presidency."
Christie declined opportunities to attack GOP front-runner Donald Trump directly in questions from the crowd and in an interview. But he said there are better ways to ease Americans' fears about terrorism than by suggesting a ban on Muslims entering the country, as Trump has done. An Associated Press-GfK poll taken before Trump's remarks showed three-quarters of Republican voters think the United States is taking too many immigrants from the Middle East.
"These are not people who are biased or prejudiced people — they're scared and they want to protect their families," Christie said of those worried about immigration.
Part of the way to keep people safe, Christie said, is to engage with the Muslim community, as he did in New Jersey after 9/11.
"Most people understand you can't lump everybody in to the same basket," Christie told the AP. "I think what they want is for the government to do their job and be effective. I don't think that they care exactly how you do it — they just want to be safe."
Now, he's trying his hardest to convince them he's the best candidate to do that.
"I spent 13 years of my life actually doing it," he told the AP. "Especially in the aftermath of September 11."