United States Senator Bernie Sanders declared victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday night after he narrowly beat Pete Buttigieg in the state’s Democratic primary.
Sanders, who led the polls going into the vote, had 26 percent with nearly all the precincts reporting.
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg followed with 24.4 percent and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar had 19.7 percent.
“Let me thank the people of New Hampshire for the great victory tonight,” Sanders, a progressive, told supporters.
“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” the 78-year-old self-described democratic socialist said as the crowd roared in support.
Despite a modest turnout, Sanders generated enough voter excitement to emerge as the new Democratic frontrunner – with former Vice President Joe Biden leaving the state early to South Carolina.
“The enthusiasm for Bernie is real,” said Marilyn Martin, a campaign volunteer in the state capital, Concord.
Martin described the campaign’s energy as “absolutely electric” and said a New Hampshire bounce would give the senator from Vermont “momentum to push forward”.
Despite Sanders’s win, he is expected to get the same number of delegates as Buttigieg due to the way delegates are awarded in the state.
Buttigieg, 38, congratulated Sanders on his “strong showing”. But the more moderate candidate told supporters: “So many of you chose to meet a new era of challenge with a new generation of leadership.”
With a strongly independent and libertarian bent, New Hampshire lacks the diversity typical of many states where primaries will soon take place. Some argue that the sparsely populated and homogenous state is not representative of the country, saying it is not an important indicator or should not continue in its bellwether role.
But Sanders supporters hope to receive a boost from vanquishing the deep Democratic field, earning a symbolic victory in a tense election process.
“There’s a coalition that [Sanders] has been building among Latino voters, African American voters, Muslim voters,” Martin told Al Jazeera. “I’m pretty sure New Hampshire is his. He won it by a very significant margin in 2016.”