Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, effectively putting the Republican presidential nomination in his grasp for the third time as he defeated his remaining rival, Nikki Haley, in the state where her fortunes appeared strongest.
The Associated Press and television networks projected Trump's victory shortly after polls closed, based on early returns and surveys of voters. With three-quarters of the votes counted, Trump was leading 55% to 44%.
On the Democratic side, President Biden won easily, even though his name did not appear on the ballot because the party had decided to bypass New Hampshire and start its primaries next month in South Carolina.
But the president's supporters mounted an aggressive write-in campaign, and in partial returns, write-ins made up a large majority of the vote. State authorities said official results of the Democratic balloting may not be available until Wednesday because it will take more time to tally the write-in votes.
In a statement, Biden's campaign seemed eager to shift voters' focus to the rematch that many Americans say they don't want.
"Tonight’s results confirm Donald Trump has all but locked up the GOP nomination, and the election denying, anti-freedom MAGA movement has completed its takeover of the Republican Party," the statement said.
Although only two states have voted and only a small fraction of the delegates to this summer's nominating conventions have been allocated, Trump's victory in Tuesday's primary underscored his dominance of the Republican Party. Even before the vote, Haley faced calls from many prominent Republicans to drop out of the race.
But Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, vowed to fight on, giving a feisty speech to supporters Tuesday night in which she questioned the former president's mental fitness and warned Republicans that renominating Trump would lead the party to defeat.
"With Donald Trump, you have one bout of chaos after another — this court case, that controversy, this tweet, that senior moment," she said, reminding the crowd that in a campaign speech on Friday, he appeared to confuse her with Nancy Pelosi, the former Democratic House speaker.
"With Donald Trump, Republicans have lost almost every competitive election. We lost the Senate. We lost the House. We lost the White House. We lost in 2018. We lost in 2020, and we lost in 2022," she said.
Democrats want to run against the former president, she added, because "they know Trump is the only Republican in the country who Joe Biden can beat."
"The first party to retire its 80-year-old candidate is going to be the party that wins this election," added Haley, 52, referring to the ages of Biden, 81, as well as Trump, who turns 78 in June.
Despite her fiery words, however, the results here fell far short of what Haley had wanted. She had spent weeks campaigning in New Hampshire, while Trump made few public appearances in the state.
Trump, giving what he said wasn't a "typical election night speech," unloaded on Haley, saying she had a "very bad night, a very bad night" and calling her an "imposter."
"She had to win ... then she, she failed badly," he said, adding: "I don't get too angry; I get even."
Earlier, in an interview with Fox Digital News, he said Haley should drop out.
"If she doesn’t drop out, we have to waste money instead of spending it on Biden, which is our focus," he said.
"The party is very united except for her," Trump said.
New Hampshire was a major focus for Haley because the state's electorate, with many moderate Republicans and independent voters who can cast ballots in the primary, was fertile ground for a challenge to Trump.
According to preliminary results of the exit poll conducted for major television networks, 31% of those who voted Tuesday identified as moderates, compared with 9% in Iowa's caucuses last week, which Trump won by a large margin.
White evangelicals, a central constituency for Trump, made up 1 in 5 GOP voters in New Hampshire, compared with 55% in Iowa, the exit poll found.
Moreover, Haley had the backing of the state's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, who campaigned energetically for her.
None of that sufficed. While Haley did well in New Hampshire's more-affluent areas and larger towns, Trump racked up big margins in the state's rural and working-class areas. And while his victory was not overwhelming, the pressure here was on Haley as the challenger.
Haley had one good moment early in the day, when the tiny town of Dixville Notch, in the far northern part of the state, held its traditional midnight meeting of voters. She won the support of all six.
“A great start to a great day in New Hampshire,” she said in a statement shortly after the vote. “Thank you Dixville Notch!”
New Hampshire has played an outsized role in the presidential nominating process for decades. Its small size allows for a style of retail politics that has largely disappeared from campaigns elsewhere.
This year, the attention in the Republican race was especially intense because the state was widely viewed as the best opportunity that Trump's opponents would have to try to derail his drive for the nomination.
Trump's victory in the Iowa Republican caucuses prompted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who once appeared to be his toughest GOP opponent, to drop out on Sunday and endorse the former president, becoming the latest in a string of Trump rivals to fold.
DeSantis’ decision to suspend his campaign left Haley as the sole major Republican rival to the former president.
In the final days before the primary here, Haley and Trump increasingly scrapped. On Monday, as Haley barnstormed New Hampshire, she argued to voters that the former president should not be reelected because he faces criminal charges and is fixated on those he regards as enemies.
At an appearance in Franklin, N.H., she said: "When you go out on Tuesday, you're going to decide: Do you want more of the same, or do you want something new?"
Matt LaBrake, 58, a business-systems analyst for the state of New Hampshire, said he was sticking with Trump for the third time. He said he liked the former president’s “no nonsense” demeanor:
“He calls things like he sees them,” LaBrake said.
A registered Republican, LaBrake said he especially supported Trump’s mission to close the U.S.-Mexico border and keep the country out of wars.
Dolores Deneault, 59, was eager to cast her vote for Haley. Government needs new blood, she said, and Haley represented that for her.
“She is actually experienced,” said DeNeault, an information systems manager. “But looking at things in a different view, not keeping the same old, same old.”
A registered Republican, she said she had never voted for Trump because his demeanor bothers her.
“I don't like the fact that he can just say, ‘Yeah, march to the White House,’ and then all that turmoil happens,” she said. “I also don't like the fact that he's allowed to run when he's going through trials … I don't think that he should be allowed.”
Other voters waited until the final moments of primary balloting to decide.
Standing outside the Merrimack Valley High School polling location, Julie, 58, who declined to give her last name, shifted from one foot to the other as she considered the candidates.
“I really, as a woman, want to be able to vote for Nikki Haley. I think she's very intelligent. I think she'd make an OK president,” she said. “But she's not as seasoned in business operations.”
Julie said she appreciated Trump’s business perspective, but worried about “his shenanigans with people and how he speaks to people.”
“I’m really torn,” she said. “I’m still thinking: Do I want to vote for Nikki Haley?”
Concord resident Kevin Prince had no doubts, striding into Merrimack Valley High to cast his vote, confident in Trump. He had seriously considered Haley, he said, but ultimately decided that he preferred "a known quantity to an unknown quantity."
It would be the third time the registered independent would be voting for the president.
Prince said he was hoping that Trump would bring back domestic drilling. "Oil is everything," he said.
"Green energy is great, but it don't work. We're not ready for green energy. The technology is not there yet," the 63-year-old said. "It's causing inflation. And I personally don't care for inflation."
"It seems like on the foreign front, things were much quieter when [Trump] was president," he added. "Right now they're not."
Richard Guignard, 53, and Susan Grover, 68, drove together to cast their votes for Biden. Grover said she had done some research into Haley, whom she considers young for the job at 52 years old. But she said that as a Democrat, she would only vote for Biden.
"When he went to office, he had a lot on his plate he had to clean up from the former president," she said. "So I think given what he's done, he's doing a good job. It's just he wasn't dealt a great hand."
Pinho reported from Concord, Mehta from Los Angeles and Lauter from Washington.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.