By William Gallo
Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and outspoken billionaire Donald Trump have won their respective New Hampshire primary contests, securing their first U.S. presidential primary election victories.
With more than 85 percent of polling places reporting, Sanders had 60 percent of the Democratic vote compared to 38 percent for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump had a similar margin for the Republicans as he grabbed 35 percent to win among a much more crowded field.
In another closely watched battle, Ohio Governor John Kasich finished second in the GOP race with 16 percent.
The results were in line with recent opinion polls, which showed the Vermont Senator Sanders and the New York billionaire Trump with comfortable, double digit leads over their rivals in the northeastern state.
“We are going to make America great again,” a triumphant Trump told supporters during a victory speech. “But we’re going to do it the old fashioned way. We are going to start winning again, and we are going to win so much, you are going to be so happy,” Trump added.
The quick victory for Sanders was in stark contrast to last week’s first nominating contest in Iowa, which ended in a virtual tie between him and Clinton.
Smiling broadly and laughing, Sanders stayed on message, focusing on economic inequality in his post-win speech to a cheering crowd.
“Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California. And that is that the government of our great country belongs to all the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their Super PACs (independent campaign committees),” Sanders said.
Clinton, appearing alongside her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was upbeat and confident as she conceded defeat.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. We take this campaign to the entire country; we fight for every vote in every state; we are going to fight for real solutions that make a real difference in people’s lives,” she said.
It is still unclear just how big of a lead Sanders and Trump will earn.
Meanwhile, the soft-spoken Kasich, whose campaign has focused on issues rather than personal attacks, put nearly all his resources into doing well in New Hampshire.
“Maybe, just maybe, we are turning the page on a dark part of American politics, because tonight the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning,” Kasich said after the vote during what felt like a victory speech.
Bunched up a few percentage points behind Kasich were Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. They each got about 11 percent of the vote.
It is not clear whether the result will further narrow the Republican field. But many analysts now say that Trump appears to be the consensus GOP frontrunner.
“When you consider all the negative comments that are made about him, all the attacks. If he can survive it, and beat all these guys by 10 points or more, then he’s clearly the frontrunner,” conservative pollster Frank Luntz told VOA.
There had been questions about whether Trump’s frenzied wave of support, which showed up in opinion polls and at massive rallies, would translate into votes.
Voters chime in
But on Tuesday, New Hampshire voters seem to have answered that question, for now.
“I voted for Donald Trump because the economy is so bad, and I think he could probably be the best man to help,” said Roberta Latour from Merrimack, New Hampshire.
Voters across the state braved snowy conditions and waited in long lines at polling stations, turning out in what was expected to be record numbers.
Oscar Villacis is a Clinton supporter from Nashua. “My heart was telling me Bernie Sanders, but my mind was telling me Clinton,” he said.
The campaign now heads to South Carolina, where both Clinton and Trump have substantial leads.