MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AFP) — Hillary Clinton on Wednesday basked in the glow of her primary win in New Hampshire, where she defied polls and narrowly beat rival Barack Obama in the state's key Democratic presidential nominating contest.
Senator John McCain meanwhile staged his own comeback on the Republican side, triumphing in the crucial early vote despite having been widely written off months ago as his campaign flagged.
"I campaigned really, really hard across New Hampshire," said Clinton, who grew tearful in a rare show of emotion on the eve of the primary, leading to ample political opining that the display either helped or hurt her.
"I don't pay a lot of attention when people say I'm up or when people say I'm down," Clinton told CNN. "I really believed that I had a good chance to win. Nobody else believed it, but all day, I did."
Clinton triumphantly told cheering supporters: "Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice."
Despite public opinion polls that anointed Obama a double-digit favorite and suffering a stinging third-place defeat in the Iowa caucus last week, Clinton won the state primary that saved her husband's own presidential campaign in 1992.
Tabloids in New York, where Clinton serves as senator, plastered shots of her laughing face on the front page with headlines "Who's Crying Now?" in the New York Daily News and "Back From the Dead" in the New York Post.
With nearly all precincts reporting, Clinton came out ahead with 39 percent to 36 percent for Obama, even as exit polls showed more Democrats cared most about change (54 percent) than experience (19 percent).
In one striking development, women seemed to be flocking back to the Clinton camp, after opting for Obama in Iowa. Fox and CNN exit polls showed Clinton on top among women voters by 47 to 34 percent. Fifty-seven percent of voters in the Democratic primary were women.
Asked about what role the key voting blocks of young people, women and independents may have played in his loss, the 46-year-old Illinois senator told Fox: "It's hard to say."
"I haven't sorted through all the numbers. (But) I think voters are not going to let anyone take anything for granted," he said.
"This is going to be a really hard-fought battle," Obama added, voicing optimism that "we're going to be in a good position to win the nomination."
His supporters gave him a rock-star welcome as he conceded Clinton's victory and vowed he would ultimately find his way to the White House.
"I'm still fired up," he cried to cheers and applause.
Former senator John Edwards, second in Iowa, finished third among Democrats, but vowed to stay in the race to the end.
McCain meanwhile beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as well as Iowa caucus winner and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister.
McCain, who spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, led with 37 percent of the vote with most of the results in.
"My friends, you know, I'm past the age when I can claim the noun 'kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like," said McCain, 71, as supporters roared their approval, chanting "The Mac is Back."
The upset wins left both parties' races uncertain, with no clear front-runner to succeed US President George W. Bush, who arrived in the Middle East Wednesday for a week-long trip and has not publicly chosen a favorite candidate.
"Another silver. I'd rather have a gold, but another silver," Romney said as his 32 percent left him in second place again, after losing out in Iowa to Huckabee, who placed third here with 11 percent.
Political commentators strained to explain what effect, if any, Clinton's teary-eyed emotional appeal on Monday had on her victory.
Asked how she kept going, Clinton had seemed to feel the weight of the Obama juggernaut and media scrutiny as her eyes welled up and she replied: "This is very personal for me. It is not just political."
Clinton hopes to score a major -- perhaps definitive -- victory over her rivals when primary voters cast ballots on February 5 in more than 20 states, including giants California, New York, and New Jersey, where she polls well.
In a bid to keep her campaign on track, her husband, former president Bill Clinton, earlier went on the offensive, saying Obama lacked experience and accusing him of inflating his anti-war stance on Iraq.
"This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I have ever seen," he told supporters at a rally in New Hampshire.
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