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Clinton Surprises Obama in Tight Democratic Race

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) celebrates her victory in the state primary on Tuesday in Manchester.
Stan Honda
AFP/Getty Images
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) celebrates her victory in the state primary on Tuesday in Manchester.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, defying pre-election polls, defeated Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in Tuesday's Democratic primary in New Hampshire.

With 96 percent of the vote counted, Clinton held 39 percent of the vote to Obama's 36 percent.

After Clinton's third-place finish in Iowa, most of the New Hampshire polls indicated that she would lose to Obama again, and by a substantial margin. So when the results became apparent Tuesday night, Clinton's supporters chanted "comeback kid, comeback kid," invoking the moniker that her husband, Bill Clinton, adopted 16 years ago, when a second-place showing in New Hampshire revived his faltering presidential campaign.

Hillary Clinton told her supporters Tuesday night that she came to them "with a very full heart."

"Over the last week," she said, "I listened to you and in the process, I found my own voice. Now, let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has given me."

Shortly before 11 p.m., Obama emerged to congratulate Clinton, but his message was upbeat.

"I am still fired up and ready to go," Obama said, adding: "A few weeks ago, no one could have imagined what we would do tonight in New Hampshire."

His assertion that he was ready to take the country "in a fundamentally new direction" was greeted by a chant from his supporters: "We want change. We want change."

John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, who finished second in Iowa, was third in Tuesday's voting. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was a distant fourth. Richardson insisted that the upcoming Western contests in Nevada, New Mexico and California will revive his campaign.

"This race is going to go on and on and on," Richardson told supporters.

Edwards, who some had speculated might be knocked out of the race by a weak performance in New Hampshire, gathered about 17 percent of the vote and vowed to fight on. He pointed to the upcoming primary in South Carolina — the state where he was born and which he carried four years ago — as a fresh chance to compete with Clinton and Obama. Edwards' supporters also saw a potential opening as Clinton's unexpectedly strong showing slowed some of Obama's momentum.

In Manchester, N.H., Edwards told his supporters that nearly 99 percent of Americans had not yet had a chance to vote and that they "deserve to have their voices heard."

Warm Day, Hot Race

Unseasonably warm weather contributed to a record turnout of roughly a half-million voters on Tuesday, 280,000 of whom were Democrats. As in Iowa, Obama won more votes from independents than did Clinton, but she received the larger share of votes from registered Democrats.

Economy, War ... and Change

According to exit polls, the top issues among Democrats were the economy and the war in Iraq. As for the qualities that Democratic voters were looking for in their candidate, 56 percent said that "change" — Barack Obama's signature issue — was most important to them. Only 18 said that "experience" — Clinton's potential trump card — was most important.

Again, Obama dominated among young voters, as he did in Iowa, but in New Hampshire they made up a smaller percentage of the total vote. And unlike Iowa, where Obama got slightly more votes from women than Clinton, in New Hampshire Clinton decisively won the female vote. She also beat Obama 2 to1 among voters who said they were looking for a candidate "who cares about people like me."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."