New Hampshire voters were casting ballots on Tuesday in the second contest in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with US Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg jostling to remain atop a crowded field after strong performances last week in Iowa.
A parade of Democrats seeking the right to face President Donald Trump in the November 3 election made final pitches to voters in the small New England state that often plays an outsized role in determining party presidential picks.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has jumped to third place in opinion polls in New Hampshire after a debate last Friday, is looking to gain momentum from the primary while former Vice President Joe Biden hopes to avoid another disappointment after a fourth-place showing in Iowa. Senator Elizabeth Warren, third in Iowa, rounds out the top of the slate.
New Hampshire Democrats were hoping for smoother sailing after embarrassing technical problems in the Iowa caucuses delayed the release of those results for days.
The New Hampshire ballot has a list of 33 names, including candidates who dropped out weeks ago, but will not include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who entered the contest later and will face his first electoral test early next month.
Recent state polls showed Sanders leading the field, followed by Buttigieg and Klobuchar.
Supporters of Buttigieg, 38, greeted him at a Manchester polling place before dawn, waving blue and yellow "Pete 2020" campaign signs and chanting "President Pete."
"It feels good out here," Buttigieg said, smiling as reporters asked how he thought he would fare in the primary.
Sanders, who represents neighbouring Vermont in the Senate, won the New Hampshire primary handily over rival Hillary Clinton in his unsuccessful bid for the party's nomination four years ago, securing 60 percent of the vote. In a crowded field this time, it is highly unlikely any of the candidates will draw that level of support by the voters.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, addressed 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, 78, said.
Voters in New Hampshire and the rest of the contests in the state-by-state battle for the Democratic nomination will have to decide whether they want a moderate or a more left-leaning challenger to Trump. Sanders and Warren are the two progressive standard-bearers in the field, though Warren has been sliding in the polls. Like Sanders, New Hampshire voters are very familiar with Warren, who represents neighboring Massachusetts in the Senate. The moderates include Buttigieg, Klobuchar of Minnesota and Biden.
The prominent role of Iowa and New Hampshire, small and rural states with predominantly white populations, has come under increased criticism this year by Democrats for poorly representing the diversity of the party and the country.
Republicans are also voting, but Donald Trump will almost definitely take it out.
The road ahead
The February 22 caucuses in Nevada, which has a large Latino population, and the February 29 primary in South Carolina, which has a large African-American population, will pose a new test for the 11 remaining Democratic candidates.
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, the former front-runner in the race, has tumbled nationally since his poor performance in Iowa and he has 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. "... I have also been able to bring people with me."
Biden, also appearing on CNN, pressed the point that he can win over black and working-class voters and that no one in the South will vote for a democratic socialist.
Warren started her day by visiting a polling location in Portsmouth. She handed out donuts to volunteers and took photos with voters, along with her husband Bruce Mann and dog Bailey.
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.