Concord, New Hampshire – United States Senator Bernie Sanders took the early lead in New Hampshire on Tuesday night as the results began to roll in for the country’s first primary.
Sanders, who led the polls going into the vote, had 26.7 percent with 59 percent of the precincts reporting.
After Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg followed with 23.8 percent and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar had 19.9 percent.
Despite modest turnout, Sanders looks to have generated enough voter excitement to emerge as the new Democratic frontrunner – with former Vice President Joe Biden leaving the state early to South Carolina.
“The enthusiasm for Bernie is real,” said Marilyn Martin, a campaign volunteer in the state capital, Concord.
Martin described the campaign’s energy as “absolutely electric” and said a New Hampshire bounce would give the senator from Vermont “momentum to push forward”.
With a strongly independent and libertarian bent, New Hampshire lacks the diversity typical of many states where primaries will soon take place. Some argue that the sparsely populated and homogenous state is unrepresentative of the country, saying it is not an important indicator or should not continue in its bellwether role.
But Sanders supporters hope to receive a boost from vanquishing the deep Democratic field, earning a symbolic victory in a tense election process.
“There’s a coalition that [Sanders] has been building among Latino voters, African American voters, Muslim voters,” Martin told Al Jazeera. “I’m pretty sure New Hampshire is his. He won it by a very significant margin in 2016.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts initially polled ahead in the state before seeing her fortunes decline. She is currently in fourth place, just ahead of Biden.
Warren, not waiting for the final results to roll in, addressed supporters and congratulated Sanders and Buttigieg on their strong showings in the state.
They’re both “strong candidates”, she said, but Warren added she was still the best candidate to unite the Democratic Party.
“The fight we’re in, the fight to save our democracy, is an uphill battle, but our campaign is built for the long haul and we’re just getting started,” Warren said.
Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard followed, with former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick far behind.
Yang, Bennet drop out
Long-shot candidate Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur with no political experience but gained some level of popularity touting what his supporters considered to be novel ideas, announced on Tuesday evening that he was ending his campaign. Yang told supporters though that his “movement was the future of the Democratic Party”.
Colorado US Senator Michael Bennet also suspended his bid for the presidency.
New Hampshire’s primary took place just eight days after a chaotic Iowa caucuses in which no candidate was declared the winner. Sanders and Buttigieg virtually tied in that state, with both candidates calling for a recanvass of the results.
Nineteen-year-old Ella Stewart, a student at St Paul’s boarding school, voted for the first time and was proud of her state’s role as a “flagship” in the election.
Stewart chose Tulsi Gabbard because she was “excited to have a woman in office”.
“She plays more to what I think of as not being too far left or right,” Stewart told Al Jazeera, as Concord poll worker Nick Wallner rang a bell to honour another first-time voter’s ballot.
Much of the attention in New Hampshire was focused on the Democratic race, but there was something of a surprise on the other side. President Donald Trump, with only one name-brand challenger in former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, handily won the Republican primary, but not by nearly the margin he enjoyed in Iowa.
Trump, with two challengers in Iowa, won more than 97 percent of the votes there. In New Hampshire, by contrast, he was on track to win only 85 percent of the vote. Weld racked up about 10 percent of the tally, and the remainder of the votes went to ‘Other’.
“Underperforming,” was the adjective used by several pundits on US cable news to describe Trump’s showing.
Weld acknowledged his campaign may not last.
“Any centrist Democrat would be fine with me” to take on Trump, Weld told Al Jazeera before the polls closed on Tuesday.
New Hampshire gave Trump his first primary win in the 2016 election. He narrowly lost to Democrat Hilary Clinton in the 2016 general election.
Trump held a campaign rally in Manchester on Monday night, seeking to highlight divisions within the Democratic party.
Next up: Nevada, South Carolina
After New Hampshire, most candidates will turn their attention to Nevada, which is set to hold its caucuses on November 22. South Carolina will head to the polls a week later on February 29 before Super Tuesday on March 3.
Biden, who conceded he would not top the leaderboard in New Hampshire, is hoping to capitalise on his support among African Americans in South Carolina. His poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire offered a blow for his campaign, which was hoping to gain momentum after dipping in the polls.
Back in Manchester, the state’s most populous city, Sanders’s supporters noted the large turn out the senator saw at his rally on the eve of the primary.
“Last night there were almost 8,000 people in Durham,” said Allison Lincoln of Massachusetts. “We saw a lot of blue and green hair.”