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'Obamamania' sputters, McCain 'comeback kid'

Sen. John McCain

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won New Hampshire’s Democratic primary Tuesday night, pulling out a stunning victory over Sen. Barack Obama in a contest she had been forecast to lose.

On the Republican side, John McCain has won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, beating out rival Mitt Romney by a comfortable margin.

With 40 percent of precincts reporting on the Republican side, returns showed the Arizona senator with 38 percent of the vote and Romney with 30 percent.

“I’m past the age when I can claim the noun ‘kid,’ no matter what adjective precedes it, but tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like,” McCain said in his victory speech.

The boisterous crowd responded, “Mac is back, Mac is back.”

In conceding the race at his Manchester campaign headquarters, Romney congratulated McCain “for running a first-class race. … He did a good job and outcompeted us.”

But he refused to concede ground in the larger campaign, reiterating his themes as an outsider who can get things done on immigration, lack of health insurance, education, joblessness and burdens on middle class.

“I’ll fight to be back in this state and others,” Romney told supporters.

Also on the GOP side, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had 12 percent, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had 9 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 8 percent and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson had just 1 percent.

Sen. Hillary Clinton

Huckabee, who earlier said a third-place finish would be “huge” for him, also promised to return to New Hampshire.

“After we secure the nomination, we’ve got to come back here and make sure we carry New Hampshire.”

On the Democrats’ side, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton battled in a race too close to call for much of the evening.

With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton, the former first lady who finished third in Iowa, had 39 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Obama, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black president. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina trailed with 17 percent.

Polling place interviews showed that the female vote – which deserted the former first lady when she finished third in last week’s Iowa caucuses – was solidly in Clinton’s New Hampshire column.

The former first lady also was winning handily among registered Democrats. Obama led her by an even larger margin among independents.

“I come tonight with a very full heart and I want especially to thank New Hampshire,” Clinton told a crowd of supporters at her campaign headquarters in Manchester. “Over the last week I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice.

“I felt like we all spoke from our hearts, and I’m so glad that you responded. Now together let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.”

Obama said he was “still all fired up” and would continue to fight.

“For most of this campaign we were far behind,” he said. “We always knew that our climb would be steep. … With your voices and your votes you made it clear that at this moment, in this election, there is something happening in America.”

Among the Republicans, both Romney and McCain had predicted wins going into the primary, but following his second place finish in Iowa Thursday, Romney just wasn’t able to gather enough steam to topple McCain’s sudden surge in popularity in New Hampshire, where he won in 2000.

Voters who supported McCain and those who supported projected runner-up Romney differed significantly on what issues they feel are most important, exit polling shows.

Forty-six percent of those who supported McCain ranked the war in Iraq the most important. Meanwhile, voters who supported Romney overwhelmingly felt immigration was the most important issue, reports CNN.

Voters turned out in higher-than-expected numbers Tuesday, with a sizable chunk making decisions on who to support at the last minute, according to early exit polls.

Eighteen percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Democrats said they picked their candidate on Election Day.

According to tradition, the first votes were cast just after midnight in the northern New Hampshire hamlets of Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location. Combined results favored Obama, with 16 votes. Clinton had 3, Edwards 3 and Bill Richardson 1. McCain topped the Republicans with 10 votes, while Huckabee had 5, Ron Paul 4, Romney 3 and Giuliani 1.

Huckabee, the GOP winner in Iowa, did not anticipate victory in New Hampshire and looked to South Carolina to build momentum. Thompson, also with an eye on future contests, was campaigning in South Carolina today while his opponents mobilized voters in New Hampshire. Giuliani, meanwhile, skipping both Iowa and New Hampshire, has placed his hopes on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when more than 20 states, with over half the national-convention delegates, will be in play.

Before the New Hampshire results came in, former President Bill Clinton tried to lower expectations for his wife, arguing the New Hampshire primary was scheduled too close to the Iowa Caucuses.

“It takes some time to undo that; for people to say, ‘Well, this is our race in our state and we’re going to think about this and give all these candidates a free shot,'” he said. “If this were 10 days after Iowa, instead of five, I believe we would have no doubt about what the outcome would be.”

The Clinton campaign mobilized some 300 drivers; more than 6,000 volunteers to knock on doors.

As WND reported yesterday, in an unusual emotional display, Sen. Clinton fought back tears answering a question at the end of an event at a coffee shop in Portsmouth, N.H.

The New York Democrat, who had been sitting around a table for an hour discussing policy, was talking about the hardships of the campaign trail.

“It’s not easy, it’s not easy, and I couldn’t do it if I just didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do,” Clinton said.

“I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don’t want to see us fall backwards,” she said as her voice broke.

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