Manchester, NH: New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary began well before sunrise on Tuesday US time, with residents in Dixville Notch casting their traditional first ballots just after midnight. The results — all nine votes — surely brought smiles to the faces of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
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Jeb Bush greets voters in New Hampshire
Weighing in on his rival Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says there is "nothing serious about his message".
Sanders swept Hillary Clinton, 4-0, while Kasich topped Donald Trump, 3 votes to 2.
Kasich, one of several candidates looking for at least a second place finish, said he was "calm" as he approached the primary. "I can't explain it other than we've done everything we need to do here and it's in the hands of the voters," he told MSNBC's program Morning Joe.
In nearby Millsfield, Texas Senator Ted Cruz won the Republican vote over Trump, 9-3. Several other candidates got one vote apiece. Clinton beat Sanders, 2 votes to 1.
In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Kasich said he took the Dixville Notch contest so seriously that he called every voter in town. "Hey, you know, we came out strong," he told host George Stephanopoulos.
Kasich added that he had already "sent my bus — my magic bus — down to South Carolina" to get a jump on the next presidential contest.
Rubio, who is struggling to reclaim momentum after stumbling in the last debate, portrayed the growing attacks from rivals as a sign of his campaign's strength.
"It's great to be targeted, because it means you're doing something right," he told ABC's Stephanopoulos.
Around 7.45am Rubio arrived at the Webster School, where voting was well underway. Amid competing shouts of "Marco!" "Trump!" and "Ro-bot!" (a reference to Rubio's speaking style), the senator greeted supporters, telling some: "I'll see you guys again in November."
Rubio's mentor-turned-adversary, Bush, arrived at the school about two hours after he had left, still hoping to sway some voters before polls close starting at 7pm.
"The great thing about being in New Hampshire is that you can basically change the course of the race by who you think is capable of being president," Bush told a woman who said she was still undecided.
The polling station also held its share of Sanders voters, several of whom yelled "Feel the Bern!" on their way in or out of the school.
Sanders is capitalising in part on the fact that he represents a neighbouring state, Vermont, although his campaign has been fuelled more by widespread discontent with the political system among many liberals and the enthusiasm of young voters.
In diners, on factory floors and at big rallies, the candidates encountered voters, one after another, who had yet to make up their minds — a reminder that New Hampshire is a state where voters have sprung surprises in the closing days of past presidential primaries.
Despite the fact that neither contest this year appears to have a genuine race for first place, the net effect of the voting could be to draw out both nomination battles well into the spring. A commanding win by Sanders that further exposes weaknesses in Clinton's coalition, along with a photo finish for second and third place in the Republican race, could upend both contests.
For Republicans, the campaign trail in the final push was like a game of political billiards — with attacks flying fast and in all directions, reflecting the jumbled field and the uncertain fates that await so many of the candidates.
Bush fired at Trump, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio. Christie savaged Rubio. Rubio smacked back. And Trump slammed Bush and Cruz.
Two of the state's former GOP governors, John H. Sununu and Judd Gregg, said the most important outcomes may be the size of Trump's expected victory and how the other candidates place.
If Trump does not win big, it will be written off as meaningless, said Sununu, who has not endorsed a candidate.
Meanwhile, much is at stake for the "establishment" contenders. A good showing could change a campaign from being deemed lifeless to "becoming competitive," Gregg told reporters at a breakfast in Manchester hosted by Bloomberg Politics.
Gregg predicted the most likely beneficiaries of such a boost could be Kasich or Bush, whom Gregg has endorsed.
In a Tuesday morning appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Trump pointed out that he attracted thousands of people to a rally the night before despite a nasty snowstorm. "I feel good. I feel good," he said.
More to come
TNS, Washington Post