NASHUA and MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — For supporters of John McCain, it was an early night. For those who backed Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, it was quite the opposite.
McCain was declared the winner of the New Hampshire Republican primary at 8:24 p.m. ET, less than 90 minutes after polls closed in most precincts across the state, setting off a jubilant (and ultra-patriotic) celebration at the Arizona senator's campaign headquarters in Nashua.
"Tonight, we sure showed 'em what a comeback looks like," McCain told supporters. "When the pundits declared us finished, I told them ... 'I'm going to New Hampshire, and I'm going to tell them the truth .... So, thank you, New Hampshire. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
"I think it's great. It's the complete opposite of what happened in Iowa," McCain supporter Michael Bendetson said. "He can make the changes we need to our government. We need a fresh face and a new leader, and this win is a big step to him getting to Washington. I think he'll go all the way."
Meanwhile, across town at Obama's election-night rally at Nashua High School South — and at Clinton's headquarters in nearby Manchester — things were decidedly less jubilant. In fact, they were downright tense.
The two candidates battled back and forth throughout the night — Clinton taking the early lead, watching it balloon to 8 percentage points at 9 p.m., then trying desperately to hold off the hard-charging Obama. Inside Nashua South, the crowd watched the events intensely, cheering as Clinton's lead shrank down to 2,100 votes by 9:30 and waiting for results from college towns like Durham (the home of the University of New Hampshire) to come in. The roller coaster continued for more than an hour, until, at 10:34 p.m., The Associated Press declared Clinton the victor, setting off a wild celebration at her headquarters.
"Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice," Clinton told the raucous crowd. "Now, together, let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me."
And her supporters were just as quick to recognize that Clinton comeback.
"Listening to NPR all day, it seemed like Obama was going to win by a landslide. We were just hoping he wouldn't win by too much," Nadia Berenstein, a 28-year-old graduate student, said. But when Clinton won, "Oh my God, it was completely amazing. The ladies around us were dancing ... and it was amazing. It's like the end of a sugar rush. It's like I just ate a gallon of ice cream and now I have to go to bed."
At Nashua South, no one was ready for bed just yet ... because they still held out hope. After all, some of the major networks were still declaring the race "too close to call." But then, at 10:44, that hope was dashed as Obama took the stage to concede the primary. And though he had been defeated — after leading in most polls leading up to Tuesday's vote — he sounded anything but, striking an optimistic tone and turning his attention to the South Carolina primary later this month.
"I am still fired up and ready to go," he told supporters, who chanted his name and held "Change We Can Believe In" signs skyward. "A few weeks ago, no one imagined that we'd have accomplished what we did here tonight in New Hampshire.
"We are ready to take this country in a fundamentally different direction ... change is what's happening in America," he continued. "We are one people. We are one nation, and together we will begin the next great chapter in the American story, with three words that will ring from coast to coast: Yes we can."
And that optimism was reflected in the young voters who turned out to support him. Though they might have been disappointed with the way New Hampshire turned out, they realize there is still a long way to go.
"I'm disappointed in the people of New Hampshire — not Barack at all," Matt Radwan, an 18-year-old first-time voter, said. "There's so hope in his message, and he can change this country."
"I'm confident he can come back. ... A week ago, he wasn't supposed to win at all, so this isn't the end of the world," Jamie Belanger, a 17-year-old volunteer, said. "Tonight he spoke about hope and change, and I still believe in those things. I'm not discouraged. It's a long run to where we want to go."
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 2:50 a.m. ET on 01.09.2008]