They needed two tries, but Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders did Tuesday what traditionalists in their political parties had considered unthinkable just six months ago: They won the New Hampshire primary — both in crushing fashion — turning the once-fantastical candidacies of a celebrity businessman and a democratic socialist into undeniable realities.
So vast was Sanders’ lead that Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the 2008 New Hampshire victor, conceded shortly after polls closed. Eight days earlier she had barely edged Sanders in the Iowa caucuses.
But the far more compelling story of the night was on the Republican side, over who trailed Trump, and by how much — a saga that continued late into the night in a third-place battle between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, where just a few hundred votes separated the two as the count continued. On Wednesday morning, with more than 95 percent of the vote counted, Cruz was in third place, followed by Bush, then Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich pulled off a stunning second-place finish, catapulting his long-shot candidacy over six opponents who had bested him in Iowa.
Bush rode a swell of late momentum to top Rubio, his chief rival.
“It looks like you all have reset the race,” Bush told supporters gathered at Manchester Community College. “This campaign is not dead. We’re going to South Carolina!”
This campaign is not dead. We’re going to South Carolina!
Across town at the Radisson Hotel, Rubio fans booed when Bush came on their TV screens, underscoring the two friends’ intense rivalry.
Bush wasn’t on the screen long: Trump took the stage within seconds, robbing Bush of coveted airtime. Trump declared himself the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
Sanders reveled in his decisive win over Clinton by more than 20 percentage points.
“The people of New Hampshire have sent a profound message to the political establishment, the economic establishment, and the media establishment,” he said. “What the people here have said is that given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for the same-old, same-old establishment politics and establishment economics.”
The big question after Tuesday will be how Republicans will react to Kasich, Bush and Rubio, who threw into chaos the race for a mainstream GOP alternative to Trump and Cruz, the Iowa winner.
Rubio, who had tried to seize the role of consensus favorite after his substantial third-place finish in Iowa, was knocked back to fifth place in New Hampshire, following a disastrous performance in a widely watched debate here Saturday night.
He acknowledged the results hurt: “Our disappointment is not on you. It’s on me,” he said. “I did not do well on Saturday night. It will never happen again.”
Rubio faltered in the debate against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who pounded the senator for sounding programmed on stage. Though Rubio and his aides dismissed the incident as overblown by reporters — in one TV interview, Rubio qualified the debate as “excellent” — New Hampshire voters interviewed Sunday and Monday repeatedly mentioned the Rubio-Christie exchange — unprompted — as pivotal.
Our disappointment is not on you. It’s on me. I did not do well on Saturday night. It will never happen again.
“He was ducking the questions,” said Kevin Giroux, a 51-year-old Republican from Nashua.
Christie garnered fewer votes than Rubio, coming in sixth, and said he would travel home to Trenton to reassess his campaign. But the damage to Rubio had been done.
Rubio’s camp tried to turn attention to the next GOP primary: Feb. 20 in more conservative, more religious South Carolina, where top members of the campaign have had extensive experience. But so has the Bush political machine, which has blanketed the state with television ads and soon plans to send former President George W. Bush to stump for his younger brother.
Bush needed a moral victory — that is, a victory over Rubio — in New Hampshire to justify continuing his candidacy in the eyes of some donors eager to consolidate the Republican field. In Kasich, he lost to another governor, but Bush's team boasted Tuesday that the upstart Ohioan would be no match for Bush's national organization.
Kasich, who has campaigned as an optimistic moderate, will have to scramble outside of New Hampshire, where he had staked out his entire candidacy.
Bush and his allies outspent the entire field in New Hampshire, and bragged about a better operation to reach voters and get them to the polls. But third- or fourth-place finish in the Granite State was hardly what the campaign had once envisioned. Bush himself said several times late last year that he intended to win it, an expectation revised more recently to the more-amorphous standard of doing “well.”
But much like Rubio spoke of third place in Iowa as a win, Bush — and his many Florida backers who campaigned with him over the past few days — took his New Hampshire finish as a victory.
“Tonight,” said former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, “is a resurrection.”
Miami Herald Political Writer Patricia Mazzei is in New Hampshire for the primary. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @PatriciaMazzei