Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders took a lead in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, and former front-runner Joe Biden trailed badly in fifth place in the second nominating contest to find a challenger for President Donald Trump in November.
With 25 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders led with 28 percent and Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had 23 percent. Senator Amy Klobuchar, looking for a breakthrough after a strong debate performance on Friday, was in third with 20 percent.
Biden, the former vice president, was a distant fifth in the early results with 8.7 percent, behind Senator Elizabeth Warren with 9.4 percent. Biden, sensing the disappointing result, left New Hampshire for South Carolina before the results started rolling in.
The Democrats seeking the right to challenge Trump in the November 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 Trump.
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.
Buttigieg narrowly beat Sanders in Iowa, but both campaigns have asked for a partial recanvass of the results.
On the Republican side, Trump was projected to win the state's presidential primary, easily defeating rival William Weld, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, according to early exit polling compiled by Edison Research.
Democratic voters in New Hampshire chose a candidate from a ballot with 33 names, including candidates who dropped out weeks ago. But it did 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.
Sanders had taken a lead in recent opinion polls in New Hampshire despite a barrage of criticism from rivals who warned his far-left views would lead the party to defeat against Trump.
Sanders, 78, who represents neighbouring Vermont in the Senate, won New Hampshire easily over rival Hillary Clinton with 60 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid for the party's nomination four years ago.
Buttigieg also has gotten a bump in polls after his narrow disputed win in Iowa. Supporters of Buttigieg greeted him at a Manchester polling place before dawn, waving blue and yellow "Pete 2020" campaign signs and chanting "President Pete."
Democratic 2020 US presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden reacts during a visit to a polling station on the day of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary in Nashua, New Hampshire US, on February 11. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
'It feels good'
"It feels good out here," 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. 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 Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg and Biden, or progressive leaders like Sanders and 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 February 22 caucuses in Nevada, which has a large Latino population, and the February 29 primary in South Carolina, which has a large African-American population.
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 Barack Obama, the first black US president.
Support for Biden, who once led in national polls among Democrats, has tumbled since his poor performance in Iowa. He had said he might suffer another weak finish in New Hampshire.
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," Klobuchar told
CNN, adding: "I have also been able to bring people with me."
In Manchester, voter Sara Lutat said she cast her ballot for Buttigieg.
"I think he's the one who can beat Trump," she said.Fellow Manchester voter Rebecca Balzano called Buttigieg "too new, too young" and said she voted for Sanders.