MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE: Progressive US Senator Bernie Sanders took an early lead in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday (Feb 11), and former front-runner Joe Biden trailed badly in fifth place in the second contest to find a nominee to face President Donald Trump in November.
With 14 per cent of precincts reporting in New Hampshire, Sanders led with 28.4 per cent and Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had 22.2 per cent.
US Senator Amy Klobuchar, looking for a breakthrough after a strong debate performance on Friday, was in third with 20.5 per cent.
Biden, the former vice president, was a distant fifth in the early results with 8.5 per cent, behind US Senator Elizabeth Warren with 9.4 per cent.
The Democrats seeking the right to challenge Trump in the Nov 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.
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 Mar 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.
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."
'IT FEELS GOOD'
"It feels good out here," Buttigieg said, smiling as reporters asked how he thought he would fare.
Sanders, 78, who represents neighboring Vermont in the Senate, won New Hampshire easily over rival Hillary Clinton with 60 per cent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid for the party's nomination four years ago. The self-described democratic socialist drew a young crowd of more than 7,500 people on Monday night at the University of New Hampshire's campus at Durham.
"This turnout tells me why we're going to win here in New Hampshire, why we're going to win the Democratic nomination and why we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of America, Donald Trump," Sanders said.
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 neighboring 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 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.
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 has tumbled nationally 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.
For a graphic on Calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates: