Voters in the New Hampshire primaries sent a message to the country Tuesday: The show's not over.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton edged out Sen. Barack Obama with the help of women voters, roaring back from defeat in Iowa and denying Mr. Obama back-to-back wins that would have smoothed his path to the Democratic nomination.
In the Republican race, Sen. John McCain coasted to victory in a state that had endorsed his independence and straight-shooting style in the 2000 primary and did so again Tuesday. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was runner-up for the second time in a week in states he had staked his campaign on winning.
Senator Clinton's upset followed a third-place finish in Iowa and polls Sunday showing her as many as 10 percentage points behind Obama in New Hampshire. Reports circulated Tuesday of an imminent staff shake-up.
Analysts were at a loss to fully explain the turnaround but said she may have benefited from any number of factors: a strong get-out-the-vote drive by local unions, a teary moment on the campaign trail Monday, or new sympathy for her after a rough-and-tumble debate Saturday.
Women in Iowa narrowly favored Obama, but 47 percent of women here voted for Clinton, versus 34 percent for Obama, according to exit polls. Clinton was also the favorite of registered Democrats, older voters, and residents of working-class enclaves like Manchester, the state's largest city. With fewer young voters in the mix and Senator McCain siphoning off independents, Obama was unable to sustain the momentum of his surprise win in Iowa.
McCain's victory revives his campaign. But with limited money and stiff challenges in other states, it does little to clarify the race for the Republican nomination.
A record 500,000 people – about 62 percent of registered voters – were estimated to have turned out at the polls on an unseasonably warm January day. For voters in both parties, the economy and the war in Iraq were top issues, according to exit polls.
In the Democratic primary, the results, with 96 percent of precincts reporting, were 39 percent for Clinton; 36 percent for Obama; 17 percent for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards; 5 percent for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; and 1 percent for US Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
In the Republican contest, 37 percent voted for McCain; 32 percent for Mr. Romney; 11 percent for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; 9 percent for former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani; 8 percent for US Rep. Ron Paul; and 1 percent for former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.
New Hampshire is a fickle bellwether for the nation. Paul Tsongas captured the Democratic primary here in 1992, Pat Buchanan was the Republican winner in 1996, and McCain the GOP victor in 2000. None went on to win his party's nomination.
For the moment, however, Clinton owns the spotlight. She reversed expectations and even one-upped her husband's surprise second-place finish here in 1992, when he declared himself the "Comeback Kid."
"Together, let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me," Clinton told jubilant supporters in a victory speech in Manchester. "We're going to take what we've learned here in New Hampshire, and we're going to rally on and make our case. We are in it for the long run."
In his speech, Obama returned to themes of hope and unity and asked supporters to defy "cynics" who might see the outcome Tuesday as a "reality check."
"I'm still fired up and ready to go," he said in Nashua. "We know the battle ahead will be long. But always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change."
Consecutive wins in Iowa and New Hampshire would have given Obama a bolt of momentum that would have been difficult to stop. But his loss here clears the way for Clinton to pursue a 50-state strategy, built on a well-funded and disciplined campaign organization and plenty of time to raise new questions about her rival.
A Gallup Poll released Monday showed Clinton and Obama with 33 percent each nationally. In mid-December, Clinton was ahead of Obama, 45 percent to 27 percent.
"I would say Obama did get a bounce in New Hampshire from Iowa – it's why Obama did as well as he did," Linda Fowler, a political scientist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., said in a phone interview Tuesday night. "It just wasn't enough."
Clinton is well positioned to win Michigan, with its base of traditional Democrats and lower-income voters. But the odds are tougher to call in South Carolina. Obama's strong finishes in two overwhelmingly white states have muted early questions about his electability. Analysts say that African-Americans in the Palmetto State, aware of the historic nature of his candidacy, are unlikely to stand in his way.
Mr. Edwards's third-place showing here, after his second-place finish in Iowa, dims the lights on his campaign. His last hope is South Carolina, his birthplace. He returns there Wednesday for what his campaign is calling "Homecoming Rallies," but he has fared poorly in recent polls.
If he had any thoughts Tuesday about exiting the race, he kept them to himself. "Two races down, 48 states to go," he told supporters.
The Republican candidate most deeply wounded Tuesday was Romney, who had counted on consecutive victories in Iowa and New Hampshire to light a fire under his campaign nationally. He sank tens of millions of dollars into the first-in-the-nation contests and was considered a particular favorite in New Hampshire, next door to the state where he was governor.
But his loss to Mr. Huckabee in Iowa Jan. 3 raised questions about his electability. As an establishment-backed Republican seeking to position himself as the race's true conservative, he was never a perfect fit for New Hampshire's social moderates.
Romney has lowered expectations in recent days, arguing that a second-place finish keeps him in the race. But if he falters Jan. 15 in Michigan, where he grew up and his father was governor, analysts say he will be hard-pressed to recover.
At a post-primary event in Bedford Tuesday night, Romney promised a long fight and sought to counter his rivals' popularity with new efforts to portray himself as an outsider. "[People] feel that Washington is broken," he told supporters. "You have to have somebody from outside Washington who has proven that he can get the job done."
Whether New Hampshire is McCain's one-hit wonder remains to be seen. He started last year as a national GOP frontrunner, then crashed in the summer: His campaign ran out of cash, he angered conservatives with his support of a Senate measure to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, and irked moderates with his endorsement of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. He finished fourth in Iowa.
McCain is a natural in New Hampshire, where independents make up some 44 percent of the electorate. An early spoiler for him here – his support for Bush's troop "surge" in Iraq – receded as waning violence pushed the war from the front pages.
New Hampshire voters saw McCain as no better able to bring change than Romney but gravitated toward the former POW as the more experienced and inspiring candidate, according to recent polls.
"My friends, you know, I'm past the age when I can claim the noun 'kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it," he said at a victory celebration in Nashua. "But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like."
Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister with a deep base of evangelical Christian support, won Iowa but was never much of a contender in New Hampshire, where rates of church attendance are among the country's lowest. His eyes now turn to South Carolina, a Bible Belt state where he leads in the polls despite recent advances by McCain.
Mr. Giuliani had campaigned only half-heartedly in Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping for a rout on Feb. 5, when New York, California, and 20 other states vote. But the strategy may backfire, some analysts say. He has missed out on the crush of media coverage heaped on winners in the early-voting states. And as terrorism and war fade from television screens, his appeal as New York's mayor after 9/11 loses some luster.
"All four of the leading Republicans candidates" – Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney – "have some serious liabilities, but they each have some sort of angle where they could still pull it off," says David Kimball, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Congressman Paul, with his antiwar, small-government message, drew a fervent following in New Hampshire. Small armies of supporters hoisted signs and bellowed from the street corners. But a fifth-place finish here will place him under increasing pressure to quit.
Late into the race and slow on the campaign trail, Thompson has struggled to convince Republicans of his passion for the White House. The "Law & Order" actor with the southern drawl was never expected to wow northern New England. Finishing a distant third in Iowa and sixth in New Hampshire, he is now placing all his chips in South Carolina, a must-win state where he has fallen from first to fourth in polls as Huckabee and McCain have surged.