Gore, McCain tops in nation's first Election 2000 primary
By Ian Christopher McCaleb/CNN
February 2, 2000
Web posted at: 5:55 a.m. EST (1055 GMT)
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- The first primary of the 2000 presidential election cycle is in the books, and as many of the major presidential candidates boarded planes late Tuesday night, Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain savored his victory in New Hampshire and Vice President Al Gore considered how to keep former Sen. Bill Bradley at arm's length.
Gore won an uncomfortably tight race against the former New Jersey senator, while McCain posted an impressive 16-point win over Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who holds commanding leads over McCain in polls conducted in other areas of the country.
"I think we finally have a poll without a margin of error," a smiling McCain told a jubilant crowd attending a victory party in Nashua. "We have sent a powerful message to Washington: Change is coming."
"This is the beginning of the end of the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore," McCain said. "Our wonderful campaign in New Hampshire is at an end. Our nationwide crusade is just beginning."
Sen. John McCain won the New Hampshire GOP primary.
The senator flew to South Carolina immediately after the primary. He was met by several hundred supporters in Greenville, who
turned out in the middle of the night to greet him.
"We won because we're going to take the government out of the
hands of the special interests and give it back to you,"
McCain told them.
Gore, meanwhile, marked the win with the all-American football metaphor in politics.
"During the day today, some people said this was going to be like the Super Bowl -- that we were going to fall a yard short," Gore said Tuesday night at his raucous victory celebration.
The pointed reference recalled Sunday night's National Football League championship game, in which Gore's home-state Tennessee Titans lost 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams after mounting a heroic offensive effort in the last seconds of the fourth quarter. What would have been a game-tying drive was stopped a yard short as time ran out.
|CNN delegate estimate to date:|
|(CNN did not estimate delegates for the Republican Iowa caucuses.)|
"Well, let me tell you, this Tennessean is in the end-zone, and it feels good," Gore said. "And you ain't seen nothing yet!"
With 94 percent of the polling precincts reporting late Tuesday night, McCain held an 18-point margin of victory over Bush in the Republican primary, 49 percent to 31 percent. Millionaire publisher Steve Forbes was in third place with 13 percent of the vote, talk show host Alan Keyes with 6 percent, and conservative activist Gary Bauer with 1 percent.
Vice President Al Gore makes his victory speech after winning the New Hampshire Democratic primary.
Without some kind of strong comeback before the full load of votes is tallied, the future of Bauer's candidacy may be in serious doubt.
Gore held a 51 percent to 47 percent advantage over Bradley.
Here are the latest results, and the results of Democratic and Republican exit polls.
In his concession speech, delivered early in the night in Manchester, Bush congratulated McCain for running a "good" and "hard" campaign, and thanked his New Hampshire supporters prior to departing for South Carolina. He reminded them that though he may have lost in New Hampshire, he was still the Republican front-runner in the rest of the country.
"New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front-runners," he said. "This year is no exception."
Bradley, in a spirited concession speech, congratulated his Granite State supporters for their efforts, and told them he would continue his campaign with no thoughts of throwing in the towel.
"Al Gore has run a strong campaign and I congratulate him," Bradley said. "But we are smarter and better-prepared."
Some surprises in the exit polls
Voter turnout was heavy throughout the 14-hour voting day. Before final tallies were available, CNN predicted Tuesday's turnout would set a new record. While Democrats did not outpace their participation in the 1992 primary, but Republicans turned out a very large number of people, boosting the 2000 turnout to some 385,000 people.
Independent voters -- a large portion of New Hampshire's voting population and a group whose behavior observers were keen to document -- came out strongly for both McCain and Bradley throughout the voting day. CNN exit polls indicated that among independents, 60 percent voted for McCain, 19 percent for Bush, and 21 percent for all other candidates, while independents supported Bradley over gore 56 percent to 40 percent.
Gov. George W. Bush: "New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front-runners."
McCain also won among registered Republicans. Forty-five percent voted for McCain, 35 percent for Bush, and 20 percent for other Republicans, according to CNN exit polling.
And, in a surprising turn: Among registered Republicans, exit polling indicates McCain carried the conservative wing of the New Hampshire GOP by 38 percent, while Bush took 34 percent of the conservative vote.
In the Democratic race, CNN exit polls show Bradley's message played well with women, who voted for the ex-basketball star 52 percent compared to 47 percent for Gore. Among college graduates, 54 percent voted for Bradley compared to 45 percent for the vice president; while among Democrats who decided on this very day for whom they would vote, 57 percent responded that they chose Bradley, compared to 41 percent for Gore.
McCain's Granite State victory follows his thin 5 percent voting margin in last week's Iowa caucuses -- where he did not campaign -- and provides significant fuel as he moves toward the February 19 South Carolina Republican primary, where the potential votes of 400,000 veterans are up for grabs.
Bush and McCain are already involved in an intense head-to-head struggle in the Palmetto State, where each has launched new television ads in recent days. Both are expected to depart New Hampshire before dawn Wednesday morning for South Carolina.
Bouncy Bradley issues debate challenge
CNN learned late Tuesday afternoon that Bradley was set to challenge Al Gore to a series of weekly debates. CNN learned later in the evening that Gore was preparing to accept the challenge.
The debate challenge closely follows Bradley's change of strategy -- from running a primarily issues-focused campaign, to accusing Gore of engaging in negative advertising and distorting the scope and coverage options that might be available under Bradley's universal health insurance proposal.
"That (strategy) was not in conflict with the way I have run my campaign," Bradley told CNN on Tuesday. "It shows respect for the voters, to point out that something is untrue."
"He has stepped down to a level of personal vilification," Gore said Tuesday. "I just am not going to do that."
The Republican field's early primary day
Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning in Manchester, Bush said he liked his chances, despite recent polling numbers indicating McCain was widening the gap between them.
"It's a long day of hard work. I think we have a very good chance, and I appreciate the folks coming out here today," Bush said. "The key is to convince the people on our team to vote and the undecideds to come our way."
McCain refused Tuesday to make any predictions about how he would place, but he said the primary would be remembered for the monumental battle between him and Bush.
"Both candidates did whatever they could and one of them won," McCain philosophized to reporters early Tuesday morning. "That's what it's all about."
"He's run a good campaign here, but so have I," Bush said of his most dangerous opponent, before describing his "national" campaign strategy. "I am going to run in the next state and the next state and the next state until I win the nomination.
Then, I am going to unite our party and lead us to victory," Bush said.
When McCain, surrounded by press, stopped at a Manchester school, one woman pushing her way to the door snapped, "Whoever that is in the middle of there, I'm not going to vote for him."
"We can't disrupt polling places anymore," McCain said. "It doesn't serve any purpose. It just makes people mad."
Bush said he would spend the rest of the day with his wife and daughters, watching a movie in their hotel room. The rest of the candidates seemed to be inclined to behave similarly as the day wore on.
After New Hampshire
Although it is no longer true that a candidate must win New Hampshire to become president -- Bill Clinton broke that jinx in 1992 -- a poor showing in the state appears almost certain to snuff out the chances of a presidential candidate.
Bauer may suffer the most after Tuesday's voting. His socially conservative message has not attracted much support, and a finish such as Bauer's in New Hampshire usually triggers party pressure to leave the race.
"It's obvious I'm going to have to win some of these," a restrained Bauer said Tuesday. He planned to return to Washington on Wednesday instead of heading elsewhere to campaign.
Forbes, who finished second in last week's Iowa caucuses, may face some of the same pressure as the primary season wears on. However, with the independent resources available to him because of his wealth, Forbes appears unlikely to bow out of the race just yet.
President Clinton waxed nostalgic for his days as a candidate Tuesday afternoon after a meeting with congressional leaders, saying no one could predict how the voters of New Hampshire would exert their will, and all presidential hopefuls should give a 100 percent effort when campaigning.
"I don't need to tell them anything," Clinton said. "You've just got to go up there and work your heart out and hope it comes out."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.