MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE (REUTERS) – Progressive United States Senator Bernie Sanders took an early lead in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday (Feb 11), and former front runner Joe Biden trailed badly in fifth place in the second contest to find a nominee to face President Donald Trump in November.
With 25 per cent of precincts reporting in New Hampshire, Mr Sanders led with 28 per cent and Mr Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had 23 per cent.
US Senator Amy Klobuchar, looking for a breakthrough after a strong debate performance last Friday, was in third with 20 per cent.
Mr Biden, the former vice-president, was a distant fifth in the early results with 8.7 per cent, behind US Senator Elizabeth Warren with 9.4 per cent.
Mr Biden, sensing the disappointing result, left New Hampshire for South Carolina before the results started rolling in.
The Democrats seeking the right to challenge Mr Trump in the Nov 3 election have raced through the small New England state for a week, making their case for why they would be the best choice to beat the President.
Results began rolling in quickly after polls closed, and Democrats in New Hampshire were confident they would have smoother sailing than in Iowa, where embarrassing technical problems delayed vote counting and the release of results for days.
Mr Buttigieg narrowly beat Mr Sanders in Iowa, but both campaigns have asked for a partial recanvass of the results.
On the Republican side, Mr Trump was projected to win the state’s presidential primary, easily defeating rival Mr William Weld, the former governor of neighbouring Massachusetts, according to early exit polling compiled by Edison Research.
Voters in New Hampshire will choose a candidate from a ballot with 33 names, including candidates who dropped out weeks ago. But it will not include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who is not competing in any states before the 14 Super Tuesday primaries on March 3.
Mr Sanders has taken a lead in recent opinion polls in New Hampshire despite a barrage of criticism from rivals who warned that the progressive senator’s far-left views would lead the party to defeat against Mr Trump.
Mr Sanders, 78, who represents neighbouring Vermont in the Senate, won New Hampshire easily in his unsuccessful bid for the party’s nomination four years ago over rival Hillary Clinton with 60 per cent of the vote.
Mr Buttigieg also has gotten a bump in polls after his narrow disputed win in Iowa. Supporters greeted him at a Manchester polling place before dawn, waving blue and yellow “Pete 2020” campaign signs and chanting “President Pete”.
‘IT FEELS GOOD’
“It feels good out here,” Mr Buttigieg said, smiling as reporters asked how he thought he would fare.
Shortly after polls closed in New Hampshire, campaign sources said businessman Andrew Yang would suspend his bid for the Democratic nomination.
Mr Yang, 45, who was bidding to be the country’s first Asian-American president, surprised many observers by qualifying for debates and remaining in the contest longer than some veteran politicians.
Democrats in New Hampshire and in the other states that will vote in the state-by-state battle for the Democratic nomination are trying to decide whether they want to pick a moderate like Mr Buttigieg, Ms Klobuchar, Mr Bloomberg and Mr Biden, or progressive leaders like Mr Sanders and Ms Warren, who represents neighbouring Massachusetts.
After Iowa and New Hampshire, small and rural states with predominantly white populations, the race will move on to more diverse battlegrounds that pose new tests.
Up next will be the Feb 22 caucuses in Nevada, which has a large Latino population, and the Feb 29 primary in South Carolina, which has a large African-American population.
Mr Biden in particular is banking on South Carolina, where he has enjoyed strong support among African-American voters. He served as vice-president for eight years under Mr Barack Obama, the first black US president.
Support for Mr Biden, the former front runner in the race, has tumbled nationally since his poor performance in Iowa. He has said he might suffer another weak finish in New Hampshire.
Ms Klobuchar, who arrived at a polling location in Manchester on Tuesday morning, noted her gradual rise in the polls and said she was prepared to keep fighting.
“I’m a different kind of candidate,” she told CNN, adding: “I have also been able to bring people with me.”
In Manchester, voter Sara Lutat said she cast her ballot for Mr Buttigieg.
“I think he’s the one who can beat Trump,” she said.
Fellow Manchester voter Rebecca Balzano called Mr Buttigieg “too new, too young” and said she voted for Mr Sanders.
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