MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Political novice Donald Trump and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire’s presidential primaries Tuesday, U.S. media projected, turning the American political establishment on its head early in the long nominations battle.
With less than 10 percent of precincts reporting, CNN, Fox and other networks called the race for the Republican frontrunner Trump and for Sanders, who is battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
“When we stand together, we win. Thank you, New Hampshire!” tweeted Sanders, who is treated like a local hero in this state that borders Vermont, which he represents in the U.S. Senate.
Once every four years, the nation’s eyes focus turn to New Hampshire, the small northeastern state, home to just 1.3 million people, that holds the first state primaries after the Iowa caucuses kick off the U.S. presidential nomination process.
Officials were predicting a record turnout.
New Hampshire sets the tone for the primaries to come — and could whittle down a crowded Republican field as the arch-conservative Senator Ted Cruz and more mainstream candidates battle for second place behind frontrunner Trump.
But the state’s primaries are known for their surprises, leaving several candidates hopeful that they can outperform the narrative established by months of polling.
The early projections kicked off a fierce battle for second on the Republican side among Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio.
For the past 60 years or so, most of the candidates who ended up winning the White House won their party’s primary in the so-called Granite State.
But tellingly, the last three presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — were all elected despite losing in New Hampshire.
A RealClearPolitics poll average shows Sanders — who has called for nothing short of a “political revolution” — leading 54.5 percent to 41.2 percent for Clinton in the state.
Trump leads rival Republicans with 31.2 percent — with no other candidate above 15 percent.
But everything remains in play in New Hampshire due to a high number of registered independents, who can choose to vote in either party, and the famous last-minute nature of voters here.
Exit polls conducted by CNN showed that nearly half of Republican voters did not make their final decision about whom to support until the last few days.
In early good news for Trump, who triggered global outrage in December when he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, exit polls reported by NBC News show 66 percent of Republican primary voters support the ban.
Many voters said they were voting for Trump, the man who singlehandedly turned the 2016 presidential race on its ear with his bombast.
“He seems to be speaking for the silent majority,” said auto mechanic Chris Skora after voting for the real estate magnate.
“A lot of us feel that way and it seems like in this day and age, we can’t say these things with the PC police all around.”
The New York billionaire has energized broad swaths of blue-collar Americans, angry about economic difficulties and frustrated at what they see as their country losing its global stature.
But Trump needs to turn his poll lead into a convincing win in New Hampshire if he is to recover from the embarrassment of finishing second behind Cruz in Iowa.
“Look, you know, I like to win,” Trump told MSNBC as voting got underway. “I didn’t go in it to lose.”
The rest of the Republican pack has been fighting it out, hoping a strong showing can reinvigorate them for South Carolina and Nevada, the next stops on the long campaign trail.
A poor result would likely rupture the presidential dreams for former and current governors Bush, Kasich and Chris Christie.
Rubio is hoping to match or better his third-place Iowa finish, despite taking a drubbing in Saturday’s debate when Christie eviscerated the first-term Florida senator for robotically repeating the same talking points.
And the race could be upended yet again if former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg were to launch an independent bid. He told the Financial Times he was “looking at all options.”
Run for her money
On the Democratic front, Clinton is looking to confound polls that predict a large victory for her insurgent challenger Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont in the U.S. Senate and is big on erasing economic inequality.
“You know, I just love the way New Hampshire does this,” Clinton said as she and daughter Chelsea greeted cheering, sign-waving campaign volunteers at a school in Manchester, the state’s largest city.
She also expressed optimism about finishing strong here.
“We’re going to keep working literally until the last vote is cast and counted and we’re going to go from there,” Clinton said.
Clinton won Iowa by a hair, and remains the overall favorite to win the Democratic nomination. But Sanders’ strong performance shows his campaign can give the former secretary of state a run for her money deep into election season.