Sanders deals setback to Clinton

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reacts on stage during a primary night rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on Feb. 9, 2016.

HOOKSETT, N.H. - Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic-socialist senator from Vermont, defeated Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary Tuesday, dealing a setback to what once seemed to be her inexorable march to the party's nomination for president.

The result, called by the Associated Press, was expected. Sanders had enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls in New Hampshire for months, and the main question heading into the voting seemed to be how big his victory would be, or whether Clinton would outperform expectations and keep things close.

Her team did the best it could to downplay her chances in the state beforehand, saying the electorate there has a history of siding with fellow New Englanders. Their argument: Sanders is practically a native son.

In her concession speech, Clinton promised to vigorously contest primaries across the nation.

"People have every right to be angry. But they're also hungry, they're hungry for solutions," she said after congratulating Sanders on his victory.

And if she felt spurned by New Hampshire voters, she did not show it to supporters in Hooksett.

"I still love New Hampshire, and I always will," she said.

Speaking to his supporters, Sanders praised Clinton for a "very gracious" phone call to him and congratulated his supporters.

"Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington and from Maine to California, and that is that government belongs to all of the people and not just to campaign contributors and their Super PACs," he said.

Just a week ago, Clinton eked out a narrow win in the Iowa caucuses, which Sanders portrayed as a virtual tie and thus a victory for the underdog.

The loss in New Hampshire will be particularly bitter for Clinton. After all, she won a come-from-behind victory here in 2008 that revived her campaign against Barack Obama after a humiliating third place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

Nearly a quarter century ago, Granite State voters threw a lifeline to Bill Clinton when he was mired in "bimbo eruptions" and other controversies and dropping in the polls. With a strong second place finish in the 1992 primary, the Arkansas governor claimed a moral victory that set him on the path to the White House.

Sanders' victory means he's assured of a majority of the state's pledged delegates. With 24 at stake, he stands to gain at least 13. Hillary Clinton will receive at least seven.

Clinton remains ahead in the overall delegate count due to support from superdelegates - the party officials who can support the candidate of their choice.

Including superdelegates nationwide, Clinton has amassed at least 392 delegates to at least 42 by Sanders.

The number needed to clinch the party's nomination is 2,382.

Clinton remains the favorite in the next two contests - the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20 and the South Carolina primary Feb. 27 - where the Democratic electorates are more diverse and less liberal than in the first two states.

Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white and tend to skew liberal in intraparty battles.

On March 1, "Super Tuesday," a bloc of mostly southern states will vote. African American voters are a strong force in Democratic primaries, and polling shows Clinton with a big advantage among black voters.

Sanders pulled from a broad coalition of New Hampshire voters, gathering a majority of votes from men, women, independents and voters under the age of 45, according to exit polls.

Clinton won the majority of those over 65 and those with incomes over $200,000 a year, according to early exit polls conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and the television networks.

The Vermont senator was backed by 9 in 10 voters for whom honesty was important and 8 in 10 who wanted a candidate who "cares about people like me."

Clinton, meanwhile, won support from nearly 90 percent of those who considered the "right" experience important in their decision and about 80 percent of those regarding electability as the most important factor.

Clinton backers argued that Sanders may not be able to replicate his win elsewhere.

"A Democrat who is unable to inspire strong levels of support in minority communities will have no credible path to winning the presidency in the general election," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a memo released as the polls closed.

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

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@tomfitzgerald

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This article includes information from the Associated Press.