Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hope to emerge from New Hampshire’s primary with their first wins of the 2016 presidential campaign, victories that would lend needed credibility to the unexpected contenders’ pursuit of their parties’ nomination.
Mr Trump leads the Republican field in the country’s first primary, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio tries to establish himself as the chief rival to Trump and Texas senator Ted Cruz.
In the two-person race for the Democratic nomination, Vermont senator Sanders has an advantage over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire after his narrow second-place finish in Iowa last week. He must win to have a chance of staying competitive with the former secretary of state and first lady as the race moves to more diverse states.
Ms Clinton yesterday vowed to “keep working until the last vote is cast and counted”.
The New Hampshire primary gives momentum to the winners heading into the next contests in South Carolina and Nevada as candidates race to pick up delegates for their parties’ nominating conventions. Those who fare poorly could see donations dry up and face pressure to withdraw from the race.
While critics also argue that New Hampshire is too small and too white to play such a major role in picking presidents, its defenders say the country is well-served because the primary requires close contact with voters, not just name-recognition or advertising cash. In the last ten elections, the winner of the Republican primary in New Hampshire went on to become the eventual nominee eight times; on the Democratic side, seven winners went on to become nominees.
The first ballots were cast early yesterday.