MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE (REUTERS) - Progressive United States Senator Bernie Sanders narrowly won New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday (Feb 11), solidifying his front-runner status in the nominating race and dealing a setback to moderate rival Joe Biden, who appeared likely to finish a disappointing fifth.
Mr Sanders, from neighbouring Vermont, fended off attacks from rivals who warned his far-left views would lead the party to defeat in the Nov 3 election against Republican President Donald Trump.
"Let me take this opportunity to thank the people of New Hampshire for a great victory tonight," Mr Sanders told supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Moderate Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was in second place after edging out Mr Sanders in last week’s chaotic and disputed first nominating contest in Iowa.
Both campaigns have asked for a partial recanvass of Iowa results.
It was also a good night for Senator Amy Klobuchar, who rode a wave of momentum from a strong debate on Friday into an apparent third-place finish.
Mr Biden, the former vice-president who was once the front-runner in the Democratic race, was limping to his second consecutive disappointing finish after a fourth-place result in Iowa.
He is certain to face growing questions about his ability to consolidate moderate support against a surging Mr Buttigieg and Ms Klobuchar.
Mr Biden, 77, fared poorly in two previous runs for president before winning election in 2008 as President Barack Obama’s No 2.
He hopes to stay afloat this time until the Feb 29 contest in South Carolina and a series of contests in other Southern states on Super Tuesday on March 3, where his support among African-Americans will be a strength.
Without strong showings there, his race could be over.
"It ain’t over, man. It’s just getting started," Mr Biden told supporters in South Carolina.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a progressive ally of Mr Sanders who was considered a favourite in New Hampshire three months ago, also had a bad night. She finished fourth, and also will face questions about her continued viability.
The results began to thin the field of Democrats seeking the right to take on Mr Trump in the Nov 3 election, with businessman Andrew Yang and Senator Michael Bennet dropping out after it became clear they would finish well out of the running.
CBS News reported that Mr Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor, would drop out on Wednesday.
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 out here," Mr Buttigieg said, smiling as reporters asked how he thought he would fare.
MORE DIVERSE BATTLEGROUNDS AHEAD
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.
"Because of you, we are taking this campaign to Nevada," Ms Klobuchar told supporters in New Hampshire.
Ms Warren said it would be a long, drawn-out battle for the nomination and the race was far from over. She decried the party’s infighting and called for unity as the contest moves on.
"These tactics might work if you’re willing to burn down the party to be the last man standing," Ms Warren said in New Hampshire. "We win when we come together."
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.
The departures of Mr Yang and Mr Bennet left nine Democratic candidates still running.
Mr Yang, 45, who was bidding to be the country’s first Asian-American president, had surprised many observers by qualifying for debates and remaining in the contest longer than some veteran politicians.
Mr Bennet, 55, a moderate from Colorado who had stressed improving education for Americans, told supporters it was “fitting” to end his campaign in New Hampshire, where he had campaigned heavily.