Did New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finally win a debate? After trailing in the polls for months, Christie beat up Hillary Clinton during Thursday's night Fox debate and denounced most of his Republicans rivals for not taking firm stances on issues.

Christie drew attention to Clinton's use of a private email account and server while in government, suggesting she could be prosecuted for it. “There is no one that is better prepared to prosecute against Hillary Clinton than I am,” Christie said. “The days of the Clintons in public housing are over."

The debate in Des Moines unfolded days before the Iowa caucuses Monday, the nation's first nominating contest, and as Republican front-runner Donald Trump decided to boycott the Fox forum and instead hosted a veterans event nearby.

Trump pulled out of the debate after battling with Fox over the moderators, but critics claim he simply wants to avoid sparring with his opponents ahead of the caucuses when he is so far in the lead. "Fox will go from probably having 24 million viewers to about 2 million," campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told reporters before the debate.

With Trump gone, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was center-stage at the prime-time event for the first time. Other candidates also stood to benefit for a Trump-free event. The business mogul has derided his rivals at previous debates and hogged up the air time.

Seven candidates were featured on the prime-time stage for the 9 p.m. event, including Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The debate was moderated by Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. Trump and Kelly have a strained relationship and he has called her bias. 

But it was Christie who seemed to shine most without Trump around. "I feel like I need a Washington-English dictionary converter," Christie said of his rivals' flip flops on issues. "Ted can change his mind. Marco can change his mind. It’s perfectly legal in this country … Stop the Washington bull and get things done."

Polls show Trump and Cruz competing for first place in Iowa, with Rubio in third. In February, the candidates will also compete for votes during elections in Nevada, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

During an earlier debate at 7 p.m. for low-polling candidates, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore discussed national security and the economy.