The suspense ended relatively early Tuesday night for Arizona Senator John McCain, as he cruised to an expected victory in the Republican New Hampshire primary. It was a much longer night in the airtight race between Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who were separated by just a few percentage points for much of the evening. Three hours after the polls closed, Clinton scored a comeback win — at press time, with almost all precincts reporting, she led Obama by two percentage points (39 to 37).
Smiling broadly and picking individuals out of the audience to whom she personally mouthed "thank you," a beaming Clinton — who was polling 10 points behind Obama in polls on Monday — exchanged hugs with daughter Chelsea and husband Bill before telling the flag-waving crowd, "I come tonight with a very, very full heart. I want especially to thank New Hampshire. 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 gratified that you responded. Now together let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me. For all the ups and downs of this campaign, you helped remind everyone that politics isn't a game. This campaign is about people making a difference in your lives, about making sure that everyone in this county has the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential. That has been the work of my life."
Preliminary exit-poll analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) shows that 43 percent of eligible voters under age 30 voted in the primary. That's up from 18 percent in 2004, and it means they made up 16 percent of all primary voters. CIRCLE also notes that of those young voters, 61 percent voted in the Democratic primary and 39 percent in the Republican primary.
"Clinton specifically thanked the "young people across New Hampshire who came out ... they asked the hard questions and they voted their hearts and their minds, and I really appreciate it." Though Clinton lagged behind Obama in the youth vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, it's clear her campaign got the message that young voters are a key demographic in this neck-and-neck race, one they aggressively went after in the five days since the Iowa loss. That message was no clearer than when Chelsea urged Clinton to speak to MTV News earlier Tuesday during a campaign stop, just a day after former President Bill Clinton spoke with us as well.
Taking aim at oil, drug and health-insurance companies — and what she termed "predatory" student-loan companies who have had "seven years of a president who stands up for them" — Clinton promised that she's in it for the long haul and that it's time "we had a president who stands up for all of you. I intend to be that president, to be a president who puts you first. Your lives, your families, your children, your futures."
Less than 24 hours after Clinton came uncharacteristically close to weeping when talking about the strains of campaigning, the news for her suddenly vulnerable campaign very much put it squarely back in the game, despite her third-place finish in Thursday's Iowa caucus. (Clinton also lost out to former Senator John Edwards, who came in second on Thursday but dropped to third place in the New Hampshire primary.) A number of pundits on CNN actually credited the show of emotion by Clinton as a possible turning point for voters, especially women, who may have decided to swing Clinton's way after seeing her break from her usually steely front.
The night's other big winner, McCain — who had focused much of his energy on the primary he won eight years ago — dealt another hard blow to the campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who threw down more than $8 million on ads in the state, outspending McCain 2-to-1, according to CNN.
"I learned long ago that serving only oneself is a petty and unsatisfying ambition, but serve a cause greater than self-interest and you will know a happiness far more sublime than the fleeting pleasure of fame and fortune," McCain said in his victory speech, congratulating and lauding all his Republican and Democratic rivals for their hard-fought dedication. "For me, that greater cause has always been my country, which I have served, imperfectly, for many years, but have loved without any reservation every day of my life. However this campaign turns out, and I am confident tonight it will turn out much better than once expected. I am grateful beyond expression for the prospect that I might serve [America] a little longer."
With chants of "Mac is back," supporters of McCain turned out for the senator in droves, helping him notch a first victory that could revive a moribund effort that was nearly given up for dead by most pundits just six months ago. The second win in the Granite State for McCain — whose 2000 victory was a small bright spot in his eventual fade against President George W. Bush — greatly increased his odds for staying in the race for his party's nomination after his distant-third finish in Iowa last week. McCain easily bested the better-funded Romney 37 percent to 32 percent, according to the CNN projections, with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee trailing far behind in third place at 11 percent.
McCain, who is at odds with much of the Republican base due to his support of an immigration bill that offers what some have labeled amnesty for illegal immigrants, left nothing to chance on his must-win day. According to a CNN report, the very superstitious senator was poised to have his celebration in the same ballroom he used in 2000, in the same hotel, and he stayed in the same room he occupied eight years ago and even wore the same sweater. With less than 20 percent of the vote counted, CNN reported that Huckabee and Romney had already called to congratulate McCain on his victory.
"I'm past the age where I can claim the noun 'kid' no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like," said a beaming McCain. "When the pundits declared us finished, I told them, 'I'm going to New Hampshire, where the voters don't let you make their decisions for them.' And when they asked, 'How are you gonna to do it? You're down in the polls, you don't have any money,' I told them, 'I'm going to New Hampshire, and I'm going to tell people the truth.' "
McCain, who held 101 town-hall meetings in New Hampshire during his relentless campaigning in the state that's been so good to him, added that his repeated visits were based on a single strategy: "to tell you what I believe ... I just talked to the people of New Hampshire. I talked about the country we love, the many challenges we face together and the great promise that is ours to achieve," he said. "The work that awaits us in this hour, on our watch: to defend our country from its enemies, to advance the ideals that are our greatest strengths, to increase the prosperity and opportunities of all Americans and to make in our time, as each preceding American generation has, another, better world than the one we inherited."
Despite another disappointing second-place finish, Romney was upbeat, saying he got to know New Hampshire residents very well during the 250 events he hosted in the state. Ticking off a list of broken promises from politicians on topics ranging from immigration to education, Romney said he believed it was time to send someone to Washington who will actually "get the job done."
With a not-so-subtle slap at his rival McCain, Romney added, "I don't think it's going to get done by Washington insiders. ... Sending insiders back to Washington just to change different chairs, that's not going to get the job done. I think you have to have somebody from outside Washington who has proven he can get the job done in one setting after another."
Polls statewide opened at 6 a.m. and the last ballots dropped shortly before 8 p.m. Lines were reported around the state as some voters were greeted before sunrise by Clinton, who poured coffee along with daughter Chelsea at a Manchester elementary school and pledged, "We're going to work all day to get the vote out," according to the Washington Post. Because New Hampshire allows its nearly 45 percent of independent voters to cast ballots for either party, all the candidates were doing their best to woo the undecided and unaffiliated all day, nearly 20 percent of whom were still undecided as they went in to vote.
While Obama narrowly carried the female vote over Clinton in Iowa, in New Hampshire, exit polls showed that Clinton pulled 47 percent of the vote among women to Obama's 34 percent, a margin that could have explained her slim victory. Among male voters, Obama bested Clinton 42 percent to 30 percent. As in Iowa, young voters under 30, who make up just 18 percent of participants in the Democratic election, overwhelmingly went Obama's way, 51 percent to 28, though the poll showed that the majority of older voters cast their lots with Clinton, which also likely played a role in her victory. Another key factor in Clinton's slim win could have been the 6 percent swing between the first two races among voters 17-29, with Iowa's young voters making up 22 percent of Democratic caucus-goers, while New Hampshire's tally was around 18 percent. And just in case you didn't already think this year's contests are exciting, try this on for size: There has never been a four-way split between the Iowa and New Hampshire races among Democrats and Republicans in the modern primary era, according to MSNBC.
Just minutes after the race was called in Clinton's favor, Obama took the stage and congratulated his rival for a hard-fought battle. "A few weeks ago, no one imagined that we'd have accomplished what we did here tonight in New Hampshire," said Obama, who lauded all the candidates in the race as "patriots" who have served the country honorably. "For most of this campaign, we were far behind. We always knew our climb would be steep, but in record numbers you came out and you spoke up for change, and with your voices and your votes, you made it clear that at this moment, in this election, there is something happening in America." Obama spoke of a "new majority" made up of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, who he said could change the gridlock in Washington on issues such as education and the war in Iraq.
"We know the battle ahead will be long," he said. "But always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change."
On Monday night, the Clinton campaign turned up the heat on Obama, with Bill Clinton lashing the media for what he said was a pass it gave to Obama on what the former president characterized as the Illinois senator's shifting position on the war in Iraq.
"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution?' " Clinton said vehemently. "You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war. ... And you took that speech you're now running on off your Web site in 2004. And there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since ... give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
Amid historic turnout boosted by unusually balmy weather during what is typically a frostbitten quadrennial slog in the small Northeastern state, the citizens of New Hampshire packed polling places, with some locations reporting near shortages of ballots. Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicted that close to a half-million people would vote in the first-in-the-nation primary, easily smashing the record of 396,000 who took part in 2000 in the state that has closely guarded its status as the first presidential primary in the nation since 1920. A record was set for the Democratic vote — 280,000 people cast their votes for the party — while the Republican Party also saw large, but not record-breaking, numbers at 220,000.
The next stop on the calendar is the January 15 primary in Michigan, where Clinton is the only major Democratic candidate on the ballot, because of the Democratic National Committee's tussle with the state over its decision to violate party rules by moving the primary up from the agreed-upon February 5 date. Though Clinton is projected to win easily, the state has been stripped of its Democratic delegates for now. The state should be kinder to Republican candidate Romney, who grew up in Michigan and is the son of former Governor George Romney.
Keep checking in MTV News for more coverage of the New Hampshire primary throughout the week, and don't miss our exclusive interviews with Senator Hillary Clinton — before and after her Tuesday victory — former President Bill Clinton and John McCain's daughter Meghan.
[This story originally published at 8:35 p.m. ET on 01.08.2008]