Election 2020 New Hampshire

William J. Patenaude, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, leaves the voting booth with his ballot Tuesday at Town Hall in Chesterfield, N.H.

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Fiery progressive Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fought for Democratic front-runner status Tuesday night as New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary began to cull the crowded field, bringing at least some clarity to a presidential nomination fight marred so far by dysfunction and doubt.

At press time Tuesday, Sanders held a small lead over former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with more than half of results reported. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden were vying for fourth, and neither was on track to receive any delegates.

As Sanders predicted victory, Buttigieg and Klobuchar fought for an edge with a strong finish. Warren and Biden wanted to avert political disaster, with Biden leaving the state hours before the final polls closed.

New Hampshire began narrowing the Democrats’ unwieldy 2020 class even before the final results were known. Political newcomer Andrew Yang, having attracted a small but loyal following over the past year, suspended his campaign. He was one of just three ethnic minorities left in the race. Also out: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who ran as a just-the-facts moderate in a race in which liberal candidates grabbed the headlines.

Still, nine candidates remained in the competition for the chance to take on President Trump this fall. Tuesday’s contest comes just eight days after the Iowa caucuses injected chaos into the race and failed to report a clear winner.

While the action was on the Democratic side, Trump easily won New Hampshire’s Republican primary. He was facing token opposition from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

New Hampshire Democrats headed into Tuesday’s primary with a focus on matters of fairness. Just over 1 in 10 said they were “very confident” that their party’s process for choosing a presidential nominee was fair, according to a wide-ranging Associated Press VoteCast survey. At the same time, nearly 8 in 10 viewed the economy as unfair, although there was little consensus on which candidate would do the best job of stewarding the world’s largest economy.

For Sanders, the New Hampshire primary was an opportunity to build on his dominance of the party’s left flank. A repeat of his strong showing in Iowa could severely damage progressive rival Warren, who faced the prospect of an embarrassing defeat in a state that borders her home of Massachusetts.

While Sanders marches forward, moderates are struggling to unite behind a candidate. After essentially tying with Sanders for first place in Iowa, Buttigieg began his day as the centrist front-runner. But Klobuchar was mounting a spirited bid for the same voters.

Having already predicted he would “take a hit” in New Hampshire after a distant fourth-place finish in Iowa, Biden was essentially ceding the state. He was traveling to South Carolina on Tuesday as he bet his candidacy on a strong showing there later this month boosted by support from black voters.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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