Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts scored a big victory in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary, easily outpacing Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor.
Claiming victory before a cheering crowd of backers, Kerry thanked voters "for lifting up this campaign and the cause of an America that belongs not to the privileged, not to the few ,but to all the people."
Coming on the heels of his surprise win in last week's Iowa caucus, Tuesday's victory made Kerry the undisputed frontrunner in the race to take on President Bush in November.
"I love New Hampshire," Kerry told supporters at a victory rally in Manchester, N.H. "And I love Iowa, too. And I hope, with your help, to have the blessings and the opportunity to love a lot of other states in the days to come."
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, the vote was 39 percent for Kerry, 26 percent for Dean, 12 percent for retired Gen. Wesley Clark, 12 percent for Rep. John Edwards, 9 percent for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, 1 percent for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and 1 percent for the Rev. Al Sharpton and all other candidates combined.
CBS News exit polls show New Hampshire voters were angry – about the economy, about health care and about the war in Iraq. Independents came out in large numbers, looking for someone who can beat President Bush.
Nearly half of voters, 47 percent, said they were angry about the Bush administration, and another 37 percent described themselves as dissatisfied, but not angry. Thirteen percent said they were satisfied with the administration.
As in Iowa, issues worked to Kerry's advantage in New Hampshire. Health care came in as the most important issue to voters' decisions, and Kerry was leading among these voters. The economy was the second most important issue for voters, and Kerry led even more strongly among these voters. Dean did best among voters who said Iraq was the most important issue in their vote, about one-fifth of the electorate.
The CBS News exit poll was conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison/Mitofsky. The poll includes 1,848 voters leaving the polls, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Dean's loss of momentum in January seems to have doomed him to second place. While he easily carried voters who decided before January, his momentum stalled leading up to and directly following Iowa. Dean only began to catch Kerry again in the final three days of the campaign.
The former Vermont governor tried to take his new role in stride.
"Well, it's a little more comfortable. But of course you would always rather be the leader," Dean told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "We did what we had to do last night. I'm pleased. And now it's a question of whether you want a Washington insider to take on George Bush or you want real change in this country. I think most of the people who are supporting us want real change."
Edwards said he was happy with his finish Tuesday because it showed he was the candidate who consistently was improving each week.
The double-digit showing he had in early returns in New Hampshire was a vast improvement over the support he had in the polls immediately after his second-place showing in Iowa last week, Edwards said.
"It's important for me to show I can move up," Edwards said.
Clark vowed to press on with his presidential campaign Tuesday, saying that even third or fourth in New Hampshire puts him on the path to victory in November.
"Never underestimate what a determined soldier can accomplish when he's fighting for his country," the retired Army general said.
Despite his fifth-place finish, Lieberman tried to put a positive spin on his night, saying he did better than expected and well enough to continue his campaign.
Temperatures in the teens and 20s didn't keep New Hampshire voters home, as some 200,000 voters turned out at the polls, easily eclipsing the record 170,000 turnout in 1992 when Paul Tsongas defeated then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
With Iowa and New Hampshire now history, the nomination battle goes nationwide, starting with a seven-state contest Feb. 3, where airport rallies and multimillion-dollar ad campaigns replace the handshake-to-handshake coziness of small-state politics.
It has been a topsy-turvy race so far, with Dean leading New Hampshire polls by 25 percentage points when the year began, Kerry seizing a similar lead after Iowa and Dean gaining a bit of ground after an 11th-hour political overhaul.
In a campaign that has been hard on front-runners, Kerry said he is ready for the role.
"I've been in public life for a long time, and I have been in tough races before and have been scrutinized," he said. "I'm ready to lead our party to victory."
The front-runner's mantle could prove to be as weighty for Kerry as it was for Dean. Rivals were already sharpening their knives, Republicans calling him a Massachusetts liberal and Democrats accusing him of equivocating on the Iraq war and accomplishing little in the Senate.
Rallying supporters for the road ahead, Kerry said his campaign moves on to with the same band of veterans that has traveled with him and stumped tirelessly on his behalf as he made his record as a war hero in Vietnam central to his appeal.
"In the hardest moments of the past month I depended on the same band of brothers I depended on some 30 years ago," said Kerry. "We're a little older, a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for our country."
One area Kerry emphasized he will take his fight is the South, a region he has sent mixed signals about recently.
"I intend to campaign in the South. Fritz Hollings, the senator from South Carolina, came up here and endorsed me and I'm heading to South Carolina tomorrow night (Wednesday)," Kerry told CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather after his victory. "I fully intend to campaign all across the South. I intend to compete everywhere. I think there is a new coalition to be built in our country, because I think this president has ignored a whole bunch of issues that matter to people in the South."