By JULIE PACE and BILL BARROW
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Republican presidential candidates drew a sharp contrast Thursday night with the optimistic portrait of the economy and the nation's security that President Barack Obama painted in his State of the Union address this week, warning that sticking with Democrats in the November election could have dire consequences.
"On Tuesday night, I watched story time with Barack Obama, and it sounds like everything in the world was going amazing," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the GOP hopefuls returned to the debate stage for the first time this year.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused Obama of painting a rosy picture of the country's economic situation while working Americans are being "left behind." On national security, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested the country was less safe under Obama and declared Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, would be a "national security disaster."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio went even further, saying Clinton was "disqualified for being commander in chief," accusing her of mishandling classified information and lying to the families of Americans killed in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Thursday's debate comes less than three weeks before voting begins in the lead-off Iowa caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 1. Businessman Donald Trump has consistently led the field for months, confounding the party's establishment wing.
Trump defended his call for blocking Muslims from the United States because of terror concerns emanating from abroad.
"It's not fear and terror, it's reality," he declared.