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The BBC's Tom Carver in New Hampshire
"John McCain looked as astonished as everyone else"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 05:28 GMT
Both parties in a real fight

John McCain pulled off a crushing victory

By BBC Washington Correspondent Stephen Sackur  

Republican John McCain has made a race of it with a double-digit victory over front-runner George W Bush in New Hampshire.

But it is the Democrats who must worry that an increasingly bitter battle between Al Gore and Bill Bradley will weaken the eventual nominee.    

Some people were fairly confident that John McCain was going to win, but what was truly remarkable about his victory is that he won by 20 percentage points over nominal Republican frontrunner George W Bush.  

John McCain pulled in support that normally Republicans in New Hampshire do not get.  

He clearly won an overwhelming majority of independent registered voters in this state. He pulled in centrists, and he pulled in voters who might regard themselves Democrats.  

They liked his integrity and his focus on campaign finance reform, and they also liked the fact that breaking with the Republican establishment he has proposed limited tax cuts and an emphasis on shoring up social security.    

It is the scale of the victory that matters. It is the scale of the victory that will give John McCain momentum going into the next key primary on 19 February in South Carolina.  

Questions for the frontrunner  

It brings real questions over whether George W Bush can turn his vast monetary advantage that he has and the support of the party establishment into real votes and real victories.  

The key for Mr Bush will be to stay calm.  

He still has so many advantages both institutional and on the ground. They have a vast network of volunteers and millions to spend on advertising.  

George Bush described the result as a bump
He is already advertising in many states that will have primaries in March, and John McCain can simply not afford to do this.  

That can only work to his advantage as the race turns national.  

But Mr Bush could find himself squeezed from the right as long as Steve Forbes stays in the race.   Mr Forbes would like to stay in the race, for no other reason, than to do real damage to Mr Bush.

Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes are probably not long for this race.  

Fighting Al  

For the Democrats, Al Gore was only a few weeks ago painting himself the underdog in the race, clearly preparing himself and his side for the possibility of defeat.   But he won, if only by a few percentage points.  

He will sell this as the beginning of the fight. He has transformed himself into 'Fighter Al', the man who is prepared to scrap his way to the White House.  

But what Mr Gore had really wanted to do in New Hampshire was to strike a lethal blow to Bill Bradley's campaign or at least convince senior figures in the Democratic Party to persuade Mr Bradley to quit the race. That did not happen.  

Mr Bradley seems absolutely determined to stay and the race and fight. He has launched his campaign in the key states of New York and California.  

Al Gore rallies support on the campaign trail
He will at least be in this race until 7 March, also known as Super Tuesday.  

We can expect a bitter battle between the two Democrats. They have become personally more antipathetic as the race has gone on.  

It will be quite a nasty, and just as importantly, quite a costly campaign.  

It will force both candidates to spend money they would much rather spend in the general election, and it will weaken the eventual nominee.  

A fight for both parties  

The frontrunners both have problems, but of the challengers, most observers agree that John McCain has more institutional problems than Bill Bradley  

Mr Bradley can clearly fight a convincing, competitive campaign through March. He is almost on a par with Mr Gore in fundraising.  

Mr McCain does not have much money when compared to George Bush. He may not be able to maintain his momentum.

If he loses in South Carolina, he may come off the rails very quickly. Few states in the union have the number of independent voters found in New Hampshire.  

But New Hampshire has proven one thing. Both parties have a real fight on their hands.

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See also:
02 Feb 00 |  Americas
Upset as Bush loses
02 Feb 00 |  Americas
Carnival feel to first primary
01 Feb 00 |  Americas
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