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Clinton Comes Back to Win New Hampshire Primary

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

New Hampshire's presidential primary altered the race for both parties' nominations. On the Republican side, John McCain won. And we'll have more on that in a moment.

We begin with Hillary Clinton, who was expected to lose New Hampshire just hours before she didn't.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is in Manchester, New Hampshire. And Mara, what happened?

MARA LIASSON: Well, what happened was we had a big upset. And it was pulled off by the candidate who had been the frontrunner; then she became the underdog after losing Iowa. She had been behind in all the public polls by an average of eight points; talk about a rollercoaster. Then she won by three points. And I would say that Hillary Clinton has earned the label of comeback kid, even more than her husband, who came in second here in 1992 and just called himself a comeback kid. But let's take a listen to what she had to say last night.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

Sen. CLINTON: I felt like we all spoke from our hearts and I am so gratified that you responded. Now, together let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

LIASSON: The Clinton campaign is trying very hard to show that she's not the candidate of the past, and you could see it last night. There were a bunch of young kids behind her on the stage; that's very different than in Iowa, where she had Madeleine Albright and Wesley Clark standing with her.

INSKEEP: Although that image happened after the victory was sealed. How did she manage to pull this out, when all polls showed her behind?

LIASSON: Well, the polls are still a real mystery. The polls were actually very good predictors on every other aspect of the New Hampshire vote except the Clinton-Obama contest.

What appears to have happened is that unlike Iowa, where Obama won the female vote, women really came home to Clinton here in New Hampshire. She won big among women at all income levels. And also, even though Obama won independents, it wasn't by enough to offset the bigger margins that Hillary had among Democratic regulars.

Steve, you know, the results here surprised the Clinton campaign just as much as they did everyone else. They were fully expecting her to lose. They were getting ready to regroup for the big primaries on February 5th. Now she goes on to those contests with the wind at her back.

Sen. CLINTON: 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.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

LIASSON: The results were a setback for Barack Obama. But when he addressed his supporters last night, he was upbeat.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I am still fired up and ready to go.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

LIASSON: Obama is still strong in the upcoming Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary. But his narrow loss in New Hampshire deprived him of the boost his campaign had been expecting from two back-to-back wins.

Sen. OBAMA: We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics. And they will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks and months to come. We have been asked to pause for a reality check. We have been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

LIASSON: John Edwards placed third. And although he vowed to continue in the race, he doesn't have a lot of money. And his hope that the race would turn into a contest between himself and Obama has not panned out. Instead, the Democratic race has been transformed into a two-person battle - between Obama and Clinton, both well-funded popular candidates.

INSKEEP: So that's what's happening on the Democratic side. What about the Republicans?

LIASSON: On the Republican side, the establishment lost again. And New Hampshire voters chose their favorite maverick, John McCain. He had staked everything on New Hampshire after he ran out of money in the spring.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): When the pundits declared us finished, I told them I'm going to New Hampshire where the voters don't let you make their decision for them.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Sen. McCAIN: And when they asked, how are you going to do it? You're down in the polls, you don't have the money. I answered, I'm going to New Hampshire, and I'm going to tell people the truth.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

LIASSON: McCain held hundreds of town meetings and answered thousands of questions - winning New Hampshire votes the same way he did in the 2000 primary.

Sen. McCAIN: I'm past the age when I can claim the noun kid no matter what adjective precedes it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. McCAIN: But tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

LIASSON: With McCain's win in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has now lost two of the early states he had been counting on. But he did win the tiny Wyoming caucuses on Saturday. And he pointed that out last night in his concession speech.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): Well, another silver, and it's - I'd rather have a gold, but I got another silver. And now there've been...

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

Mr. ROMNEY: There have been three races so far. I have gotten two silvers and one gold. Thank...

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

Mr. ROMNEY: Thank you, Wyoming.

LIASSON: Although fewer independents voted in the Republican primary than the Democratic primary, McCain got the lion's share of their votes. He split support of Republicans with Romney. McCain also did better among the half of Republican voters who were unhappy with President Bush. Romney carried those who were satisfied with the president.

Then there was Mike Huckabee, the Republican who came in third. Every candidate has music at their election night parties, but Huckabee was the only one whose introduction had a soundtrack.

(Soundbite of music, "Also Sprach Zarathustra")

Unidentified Man: Outspent 20-1, he shocked the world with a landslide victory in the Iowa caucus.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: And now New Hampshire has sent a message to the world that two months ago no one would have believed.

LIASSON: Huckabee has the least money of the leading Republican candidates, but he seems to be having the most fun, partly because he exceeded his own low expectations for New Hampshire. Not long ago, he was in single digits here.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): Tonight, you've given us so much more than we could have imagined just a few days or weeks ago. And over the last few days, we've seen that momentum build and the excitement at our rallies and the enthusiasm of our people and the size of the crowds. And we just sensed that we were going to do better than a lot of people thought that this old unknown Southern boy could possibly do up here in New England. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.