MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, defeating former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton to become the first Jewish candidate ever to win a presidential nominating contest. As for the GOP race, billionaire casino tycoon Donald Trump handily won the Republican primary.
The self-described democratic socialist achieved the milestone nine days after earning a smaller one, when he became the first Jewish figure ever to win delegates in a presidential primary through his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
Sanders – who has distanced himself from organized religion throughout his public life – characterized himself as both “religious” and “spiritual” at a town hall hosted by CNN over the weekend. “It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely,” he said.
But the senator has not mentioned that religiosity unprompted while campaigning through the Granite State – ranked among the 10 least religious states in the Union in a 2014 Gallup Poll, behind his home state, neighboring Vermont, which ranks as the 49th least religious state.
His victory is a political setback for Clinton, who won in Iowa on February 1 by less than half a percentage point. She nevertheless maintains strong leads in the states to come – including in South Carolina and Nevada, the next two contests.
Shortly after he was declared the winner of the presidential primary, Sanders gave a victory speech dominated by his calls for Wall Street reform and a “political revolution” throughout the country. But he also touched briefly on foreign policy matters.
“While we must be relentless in fighting terrorists,” Sanders said, “we cannot and should not be the policemen of the world.”
He warned against a continual presence of US ground troops in the “quagmire” that is the modern Middle East.
Trump won the nation’s first Republican primary election on Tuesday with overwhelming support, topping the field of eight candidates after waging an unconventional campaign in the Granite State.
Trump ended the night with 35 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire election, more that twice as second place finisher Ohio Governor John Kasich, who received 16% of the vote.
The bombastic New York businessman — who came in second in the Iowa caucuses to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — has predicated his campaign on the power of winning. Rallying New Hampshirites thousands at a time in some of the largest venues in the state, the candidate, leading national polls, spent little on his operation here, in a contest long accustomed to large ad buys and complex grassroots efforts. At a rally in Manchester for his supporters, the bar was open and televisions were turned to CNN as the results came in.
New Hampshire’s verdict sets up a tough fight for Republicans in South Carolina’s February 20 primary and for Democrats there on February 27. Some of the most monumental campaign battles in elections past have been fought in the state that holds the first primary election of the American South.
Kasich won a spirited fight for second in the Republican field in New Hampshire, with US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida fighting for third place. All four are now headed to South Carolina.
For Trump, New Hampshire showed he has staying power and can take a punch after losing on February 1 to Cruz in the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses. His win showed pundits were wrong to think he would quickly self-destruct based on his penchant for insults and imprecise plans for the presidency.
Sanders said his victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton showed “we have sent the message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California, and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”
Clinton, a former US senator, now looks wounded. She trailed Sanders by 60 percent to 38 percent in New Hampshire with 92 percent of precincts reporting.
In an apparent attempt to chip away at Clinton’s strong support among African- American voters, Sanders was to meet on Wednesday morning with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton at a restaurant in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood.
Black voters will play a crucial role in the Democratic race in South Carolina, where more than half of the Democratic primary voters in 2008 were African American.
Young voters in New Hampshire liked Sanders’s populist proposals to break up big banks and have the government pay for free college tuition.
“People have every right to be angry but they’re also hungry, they’re hungry for solutions,” Clinton, 68, said after congratulating the 74-year-old Sanders. “I will work harder than anyone to actually make the changes that make your lives better.”
Clinton was headed to New York, headquarters for her campaign, to regroup with top aides and prepare for a Democratic debate on Thursday. Her campaign has denied reports it is considering a shakeup but acknowledged it would be natural to add members to their team as the campaign progresses.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a memo that the Democratic nomination would “very likely” be decided in March, with the support of black and Hispanic voters key to victory. In addition to South Carolina, a primary race is set for Nevada this month.
“It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for a Democrat to win the nomination without strong levels of support among African- American and Hispanic voters,” Mook wrote.
Reuters contributed to this report.