MANCHESTER, N.H. The insurgent candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, billionaire Republican Donald Trump and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, looked likely to get a lift on Tuesday at the New Hampshire primary elections by defeating mainstream rivals.
In an election year when Americans seem angry at traditional politicians, the two men held strong leads over their respective opponents in New Hampshire, the second state in the process of picking party nominees for the Nov. 8 election to replace President Barack Obama.
For the other Republican candidates, it was a fight for second place in the state behind Trump.
After a strong third-place showing in last week's Iowa caucuses, the first state to hold a nominating contest, Marco Rubio needs another top-tier finish in New Hampshire to buttress his argument that he is the candidate around whom the party's leadership and wealthy donors should rally.
A debate performance by Rubio on Saturday night was widely mocked by Republicans and Democrats, as well as legions on social media, but a robust finish in New Hampshire may help defuse the notion that it did lasting damage.
A WMUR-CNN poll on Monday showed Trump leading in New Hampshire with the support of 31 percent of those planning to vote in the Republican primary. Rubio, a U.S. Senator from Florida, was second at 17 percent, followed by Ted Cruz, a conservative Texas senator, at 14 percent, and Ohio Governor John Kasich at 10 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.
Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, and former tech executive Carly Fiorina trailed in the single digits.
Trump, who has courted controversy by deriding Mexican immigrants and promising to ban Muslims from entering the United States, spent the final campaign hours in New Hampshire insulting his rivals.
In an interview with MSNBC, he called Rubio "confused," Bush a "loser," Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton "evil" and Cruz "nasty."
At a campaign event on Monday, the real estate mogul gleefully repeated an audience member's description of Cruz as a "pussy" because the senator from Texas said he was more hesitant than Trump about supporting torturing the country's captured enemies.
On the Democratic side, Sanders held a strong poll lead over former secretary of state Clinton. He disputed Clinton's notion that he had an advantage over her simply because he is a U.S. senator in the neighbouring state of Vermont.
Clinton, who beat Sanders by only a fraction of a percentage point in Iowa, has sought to play down expectations about her showing in New Hampshire.
"VOTE THEIR PASSIONS"
Obama, who has not yet endorsed a candidate from among his fellow Democrats, expressed surprise at the leads in polls held by Trump and Sanders.
"Early on, often times, voters want to just vent and vote their passions," he told CBS News in an interview that aired on Tuesday.
At a polling station in the town of Derry on Tuesday morning, Clinton bumped into the husband of former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina, who has repeatedly derided Clinton's marriage to former U.S. President Bill Clinton as loveless.
"Well, give my best to Carly," Clinton said to Frank Fiorina after they had swapped pleasantries about the marvels of democracy. "Want to get a picture?"
Fiorina said he did, and they grinned for cameras.
Primary votes were already counted in Dixville Notch, a town of about a dozen people that prides itself on being the first in the state to vote. Sanders won all four Democratic votes there while in the Republican race Kasich beat Trump, 3-2.
State-wide results were not due till Tuesday night.
Kasich has long staked the viability of his campaign on the outcome in New Hampshire, which does not produce many of the delegates needed to win a presidential nomination but is important because of its place early in the election calendar.
In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday morning, Kasich said his fate was now in the hands of voters. "So I'm really cool with whatever happens here," he said.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Caren Bohan, Toni Reinhold and Alistair Bell)
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Published Date: Feb 10, 2016 00:46 AM | Updated Date: Feb 10, 2016 00:46 AM