Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire’s high-stakes Democratic primary on Tuesday, according to US network projections, leaving rivals including party stalwart Joe Biden in his wake as he staked his claim to challenge President Donald Trump in November.
Sanders, the flag-bearer for the party’s progressive wing, had 26% of votes with most of the count complete in the northeastern state, where he routed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“Let me take this opportunity to thank the people of New Hampshire for a great victory tonight,” Sanders told cheering supporters after NBC and ABC called the result in his favor.
“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” the senator from neighboring Vermont added as he raised the roof with his rallying cry for fairer taxes and health care reform.
Indiana ex-mayor Pete Buttigieg finished in second place at 24% as he readied for the more difficult battlegrounds ahead, while fellow Midwestern moderate Amy Klobuchar maintained a late surge to place third on about 20%.
Liberal Elizabeth Warren finished in fourth place at about 9%.
“Now our campaign moves on to Nevada, to South Carolina, to communities across our country. And we will welcome new allies to our movement at every step,” Buttigieg said.
After months atop the pack, Biden had already conceded he expected to do badly in New Hampshire, as he did a week earlier in Iowa – and the former vice-president’s worst fears were beginning to materialize as he languished in fifth with just over 8%.
The performance will be a body blow to Biden, 77, who has failed to generate the fundraising numbers or the enthusiasm levels of his rivals for the top spot on the Democratic ticket.
White House hopefuls had been seeking clarity in the Granite State after the first-in-the-nation Iowa count devolved into chaos, with Sanders and Buttigieg eventually emerging neck-and-neck.
For tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, that meant facing reality and bowing out after they failed to make an impact on Tuesday.
“You know I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race,” Yang said.
‘Not the closing bell’
Sanders, 78, went into the race as the newly anointed national frontrunner and was expected to win New Hampshire.
Buttigieg’s camp will be happy with a solid result that could provide voters on the fence with much-needed reassurance after he won narrowly in Iowa.
The Afghanistan veteran is languishing at 10% in the latest national polls and has negligible support among blacks in upcoming states with more diverse populations.
Pundits believe this vital constituency will start to take a serious look at Buttigieg, a virtual unknown a year ago, after his impressive top-two finishes in the opening races.
“Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, is having a really bad night,” Trump tweeted with around half the count completed.
“I think she is sending signals that she wants out.”
Warren admitted to MSNBC the result was a disappointment but added that “98% of people still haven’t been heard from…. This is going to be a long primary process.
“The question for us Democrats is whether it will be a long, bitter rehash of the same old divides in our party, or whether we can find another way,” she said later.
Biden, apparently seeing the writing on the wall, had already canceled a primary-night party and was in South Carolina as the results came in.
“We just heard from the first two of 50 states. Two of them. Not all the nation, not half the nation, not a quarter of the nation,” he told supporters.
“Now, where I come from, that’s the opening bell – not the closing bell.”
The day had begun under a light snowfall. Voters at a Boys and Girls Club in the state capital Concord received paper ballots and used either voting booths curtained by red, white and blue plastic or tabletop voting spots to make their choice.
Mike Schowalter, a 39-year-old conservative, said he voted for Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist who critics complain is proposing a health-care overhaul and other sweeping ideas that are too expensive.
“It does seem kind of strange, but I do think a lot of stuff going on in our country right now is a bit broken,” Schowalter told AFP. “I think he’ll get us talking.”
Buoyed by his strong start, Sanders has emerged as the national Democratic frontrunner with 25% support, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that described his surge as a “dramatic shift.”
Biden has skidded from 26% to 17% support since the end of January.
Significantly, the survey also showed billionaire Michael Bloomberg vaulting into third place on 15% – suggesting a possible upset when New York’s former mayor, who is skipping the first four nominating contests, throws himself fully into the race.
Competing for the support defecting from Biden, Bloomberg is focusing on Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states vote – spending a record US$260 million of his personal fortune on his campaign.
“New Hampshire, the choice you make today will shape our nation’s future,” Buttigieg tweeted as polling began on Tuesday, depicting himself as a fresh new force that can lead a drive to beat Trump.
Complicating Tuesday’s vote, independents – who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans in the state – were able to vote in either primary, potentially tipping the scales in a tight race.
Asked about Bloomberg running, Sanders told NBC in an interview on Tuesday that he had “a real problem with multibillionaires literally buying elections.
“I don’t begrudge his wealth, but I do begrudge a billionaire thinking he can buy the election,” said Sanders, who earned just under $3 million from 2016-2018.
“He has every right in the world to run for office…. But he doesn’t have the right to buy an election. This is exactly the problem with American politics.”