NASHUA, N.H. — Donald Trump nailed down a solid first electoral win in New Hampshire's presidential primary Tuesday, demonstrating his unorthodox campaign can translate large crowds at rambunctious rallies into the votes that determine delegates. His Republican rivals battled for second place, looking to break from the pack and ensure the survival of their campaigns.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, an afterthought in Iowa, was vying for second against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. All were hoping a credible showing would lead to an influx of new donor money and attention as the election moves on to South Carolina. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had dedicated a significant amount of time to New Hampshire, lagged behind early in the vote count.
Trump, stung by his second-place showing in Iowa last week, had been determined to make New Hampshire his proving ground for a campaign that has defied convention wisdom from the start. Early exit polls showed he drew support from voters looking for an outsider and from those who made up their minds a while ago. Word that he'd snagged first place in New Hampshire prompted supporters at Trump headquarters in Manchester to wave foam fingers declaring, "You're Hired."
Count car salesman Val Goldenberg as a Trump voter. At a Nashua polling place, Goldenberg said he voted for the billionaire because he likes the business mogul's "non-politician" credentials.
"I think America really needs a good shake-up," Goldenberg said.
New Hampshire seemed unlikely to give much clarity to the search for a strong GOP alternative to Trump.
Cruz claimed a strong victory in Iowa, but his rivals set out to slow his momentum in the second nomination contest. Rubio had arrived in New Hampshire with a burst of momentum following his better-than-expected third-place finish in Iowa last week, but a shaky debate performance Saturday sparked criticism from his rivals that the 44-year old freshman senator lacks the experience to lead the nation
A strong performance in New Hampshire was critical for Kasich, who all but skipped Iowa's caucuses to grind out town hall after town hall in New Hampshire. During a visit to a Concord polling place Tuesday, the Ohio governor said a Kasich win with a positive message could open up a "new chapter" in American politics.
He closed the deal with voter Miranda Yeaton, a mother of two young daughters in Concord who said that Trump scared her and that she liked Kasich's record as governor.
"If he can do it for Ohio he can probably do it for the rest of America," she said.
Overall, Republican voters were very negative about how things are going in Washington these days, according to early results from an exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and the television networks. Nearly half of Republicans said they were dissatisfied and 4 in 10 were angry. Trump did best with voters who were angry; dissatisfied voters were somewhat less likely to break for Trump.
By winning New Hampshire, Donald Trump will take the lead in the race for delegates for the Republican National Convention. But it won't be much of a lead.
There are only 23 delegates at stake in New Hampshire's Republican primary, and they are awarded proportionally, based on the statewide vote. Trump will win at least nine.
Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne and Holly Ramer contributed to this report from Manchester, New Hampshire.