New Hampshire voters are putting their big imprint on the 2016 presidential race, a ritual that began 100 years ago with the state's first primary, and for some of them it was a confounding choice capped by a decision in the final minutes.
The primary pitted Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and more than half a dozen candidates on the Republican side in a field dominated in polling by Donald Trump.
Early exit polls indicated that New Hampshire voters might be growing more polarized. On Tuesday, three-quarters of voters in the Republican primary said they were conservative, up from just over half in 2012, and two-thirds of Democratic voters called themselves liberal, up from 56 percent in 2008.
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The surveys at voting places, conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and TV networks, also suggested that nearly half of Republican voters made up their minds in the past week.
Among them, John Starer, 72, of Bedford, a Republican who owns a company that makes glue sticks, ruled out Marco Rubio as too inexperienced — "maybe next time" — and decided five minutes before voting that he would go with Ted Cruz over Trump. "I'd like to think Trump had a chance," he said, meaning a chance to beat the Democratic nominee in the general election, "but no."
Megan Tolstenko, 33, an unaffiliated voter from Manchester, went back and forth between both parties. "Today, I woke up this morning and something clicked," she said. Tolstenko voted for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "He pulled on my heartstrings."
Nicole Reitano, a 24-year-old embroiderer from Nashua, briefly considered Clinton before voting for Sanders. "I felt like he was the most honest," Reitano said. "He's had the same views forever, and he's never budged. That makes me feel confident in him."
However New Hampshire shakes out Tuesday night, the 2016 campaign is in transition. The close-up campaigning in coffee shops and gyms in far-flung snowy expanses shifts now to bigger states, where those who come out of New Hampshire intact will need the advertising muscle and organizational strength to score big, fast and increasingly at a national level.
Over the years, New Hampshire voters have rewarded insurgents at times (Pat Buchanan), iconoclasts other times (John McCain) and mainstream hopefuls on other occasions. They tend to like their neighbors, such as Sanders from Vermont.
Such choices came at them all at once Tuesday. A look at the race:
One of the favorite buzzwords of politicos this year, a "lane" is where several candidates unofficially compete for primacy in a certain segment of the electorate. In New Hampshire, Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Christie struggled over who among them could consolidate the support of moderate or establishment-minded Republicans and rise up to be the prime challenger to Trump, the New Hampshire and national GOP poll leader, and Cruz, the Iowa caucuses winner.
Until his famously flustered debate performance, Rubio was seen as the man on the move, probably not able to defeat Trump in New Hampshire but with a strong chance to outdistance other rivals and perhaps drive some from the race.
Whether that is so is the other towering question of the night.
Among Democrats, Clinton's 2008 win in New Hampshire set her back on course after a dispiriting third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, won by Barack Obama on his way to the presidency.
This time, a New Hampshire win would go even further to juice up her campaign after her unsatisfying hair's-breadth win in Iowa. Short of such an upset, Clinton and Sanders will be casting the result in ways that suit them — a closer-than-expected margin, for example, could be spun as a victory for both. No clarity, in other words, unless the socialist Vermont senator badly stumbles.
FLASHBACK TO '92
A Republican insurgency rooted in populist anger, flavored with tough talk about immigration. Sound familiar?
In 1992 the insurgent was Buchanan, a conservative commentator then and now. He captured economic angst and disaffection with the status quo to mount an extraordinary challenge to a sitting president in an incumbent primary that normally would have seen no contest. Buchanan posted a strong finish behind President George H.W. Bush, Jeb's dad. Buchanan dragged the primary contest on for several months before dropping out.
He took on the establishment again in 1996, winning in New Hampshire and declaring "the peasants are coming with pitchforks." But the establishment — Bob Dole — won the nomination.
—In that unsettled time, Bill Clinton was "the man from Hope," his Arkansas hometown and his siren call to the nation. A fresh face though hardly an outsider, the longtime Arkansas governor already had baggage — questions swirling about his behavior with women and his history with the military draft. But he powered to a "comeback kid" second-place finish against Paul Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts, showing his campaign had resilience and reach after a poor finish in Iowa. He won the nomination and the White House.