The polls are starting to close in New Hampshire in the nation's first Democratic presidential primary of 2020, where the results could solidify Senator Bernie Sanders as the front-runner or further damage former vice president Joe Biden's fading campaign.
But surprises have been a tradition in early primaries and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who had a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, led after several of the smaller New Hampshire towns and villages began reporting results.
Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg emerged from Iowa tied for front-runner status.
But Sanders is the self-declared democratic socialist senator from neighboring Vermont and pre-election polls showed him leading Buttigieg in New Hampshire.
Senator Elizabeth Warren also hails from a neighboring state, Massachusetts, and shares many of Sanders' progressive ideas. Some analysts are also forecasting a number of write-in votes for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was not on the ballot in New Hampshire, preferring to concentrate on other states that will be up for grabs in the coming month. But Bloomberg has become a recent target of President Donald Trump's criticism — a sign that he is starting to draw attention in a crowded field.
Trump Targeting Democratic Candidate BloombergEven though Michael Bloomberg does not appear on the ballot in early states, President Donald Trump has him in sight as a formidable rival
Biden has already departed New Hampshire to campaign in South Carolina and seek support from black voters.
Biden finished a poor fourth in Iowa last week after being touted as the front-runner even before he declared his candidacy.
This is Biden's third try for the White House. Despite his long experience as a senator and vice president under President Barack Obama, he has failed to stand out in a field that includes women, a democratic-socialist, billionaire entrepreneurs, a young Asian American — Andrew Yang — and the first openly gay candidate of a major party, Buttigieg.
Small, mostly white New Hampshire is hardly reflective of the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States as a whole, but its importance every four years at the start of the presidential election campaign is recognized by both Democrats and Republicans.
The New Hampshire winner could gain an edge in the next two Democratic contests, in Nevada and South Carolina, which are scheduled for the last two Saturdays in February, ahead of 14 states voting on "Super Tuesday" March 3.
Taking on Trump
Meanwhile, Trump staged a Monday night rally for his supporters in snow-covered New Hampshire, where he criticized the Democratic field.
"They're all fighting each other. They're all going after each other," Trump said. "They don't know what they're doing."
U.S. Democrats say their chief aim in the long slog of state contests to pick a nominee to oppose Trump is to find the most likely choice who can defeat him. All of the Democratic challengers defeat Trump in hypothetical national matchups, but the margins have edged closer in recent surveys, with Trump taking credit for a strong U.S. economy and winning acquittal last week in the Senate on impeachment charges brought against him by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
New Hampshire Primary VotingNew Hampshire's first-in-the-nation U.S. presidential primary election is taking place, Feb. 11, 2020
All the Democrats are claiming they are best equipped to take on Trump.
"Let me start by asking you to form in your mind an image that I always ask voters to picture, because I picture it every day," Buttigieg told his supporters at a Monday rally. "And it's the image of what it's going to be like the first time that the sun comes up over the mountains and lakes of New Hampshire and Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States."
Sanders made his pitch at an early Monday rally, saying, "We are the strongest campaign to defeat Trump because of the nature of our campaign," funded from a large network of small-dollar donors, which he contended was a sharp contrast with his rivals who have accepted contributions from wealthy donors.
"Unlike some of my opponents, I don't have contributions from the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry or Wall Street tycoons," Sanders said in a clear attack on Buttigieg, who has accepted such donations and says he needs them to build a national political operation.
Warren retooled her campaign message after a third-place finish in Iowa and urged her supporters to not "look backwards."
"Our democracy hangs in the balance. So it comes to you, New Hampshire, to decide," she said. "When there's this much fear, when there's this much on the line, do we crouch down? Do we cower? Do we back up? Or do we fight back? Me — I'm fighting back."
Biden argued in a Monday speech that Trump inherited a robust economy from his former boss, President Obama.
"Trump's going to tell us over and over again the economy is on the ballot this year," Biden said. "It sure is. And I'm going to make sure he understands it's on the ballot because working class and middle class people are getting clobbered. But something else is on the ballot. Character is on the ballot. The character of this country is on the ballot."
In Iowa, state Democratic officials said Buttigieg took 14 of the 41 delegates up for grabs to the party's July national nominating convention in Milwaukee, followed by Sanders with 12, Warren with eight, Biden six and Klobuchar one.