Democratic Party regulars boosted Sen. Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire's primary, balancing another strong draw of independent voters by Sen. Barack Obama.
Mainline Democrats made up more than half of the vote, and they went for Clinton by 44 percent to 36 percent.
While Obama won independents by a wider margin of 45 percent to 30 percent, they accounted for just over four in 10 New Hampshire voters, down from 48 percent in the last primary in 2004, and a high of 50 percent in 1992.
Clinton also proved her strength among women, amid a much larger gender gap than last week in Iowa.
In New Hampshire, Obama won men by a wide 44 percent to 29 percent margin. But Clinton won by 9 points among women. And women, as usual, made up a disproportionately large share of New Hampshire Democratic voters — 57 percent this time.
And among older women, it was no contest. Women over the age of 65 supported Clinton by a huge margin — 57 percent to Obama's 27 percent. Men of that age split evenly between the two.
Men supported Obama in Iowa by 12 points, and women by 5 — a 7-point gender gap. In New Hampshire, it's a 24-point gender gap.
The generation gap was more narrowly focused in New Hampshire than in Iowa. Obama won by a vast 65 percent to 19 percent among the very youngest voters, under 25 years old; but that subsided to a dead heat among those aged 25 to 29. In Iowa, he won both those groups overwhelmingly. At the other end of the spectrum, Clinton won by 10 points among seniors.
As in Iowa, being seen as the agent of change was crucial for Obama. Fifty-five percent said they were most interested in a candidate who can "bring about needed change" — the top attribute by a wide margin — they favored Obama over Clinton by 58 percent to 27 percent. Clinton's pushback on change clearly did not cut.
However, Clinton came back even more overwhelmingly among the two in 10 who said they cared most about experience. And, as in Iowa, Obama showed vulnerability on empathy; among people looking mainly for the candidate who "cares most about people like me," he got only 20 percent support, while Edwards and Clinton were about even at 37 percent and 38 percent, respectively. (Edwards dominated among "empathy" voters in Iowa, rather than splitting them with Clinton here.)
On electability and leadership, Obama experienced a sharp rise in stature in the state. Forty-six percent of Democratic voters picked him as the candidate who has the best chance to win the general election in November, versus 35 percent who called Clinton the most electable. That compares with an ABC/Post poll a month ago in which far more likely voters called Clinton the most electable — 54 percent, versus 22 percent for Obama.
Obama also pulled even with Clinton in ratings of who would be the strongest leader — 38 percent of Democratic voters chose Obama, compared with 37 percent, who named Clinton. In his strongest suit, Obama was the overwhelming choice for the candidate who would do the most to unite the country, 51 percent to 28 percent.
Clinton, on the other hand, was chosen by more voters as the candidate most qualified to be the commander in chief.
On the Republican side, moderates, independents and late deciders were crucial to Sen. John McCain's victory, and he was boosted by a large advantage on personal qualities of leadership, experience and straight-talking.
Moderates (just over a third of voters) went overwhelmingly for McCain, 43 percent to 26 percent. He also won liberal Republicans, who are somewhat less rare in New Hampshire than elsewhere (12 percent of voters). Among conservatives, by contrast, Romney won, by 37 percent to 30 percent. (Conservatives were the much larger group, 54 percent of all voters.)
McCain won independents by 11 points over Romney, 38 percent to 27 percent, while they split mainline Republicans about evenly, 34 to 33.
Among voters who decided in the past three days (including today) — 38 percent of the total — McCain won by 40 percent to 29 percent.
On candidate qualities, people looking for the candidate who "says what he believes" broke 49 percent to 13 percent for McCain over Romney (Huckabee, 13 percent, as well); among those looking for the most experienced candidate, 48 percent voted for McCain, 35 percent for Romney. (People looking for a candidate who "shares by values," by contrast, favored Romney, with 36 percent to 22 percent for Huckabee, 18 percent for Paul, and just 15 percent for McCain.)
That weakness on "values," as well as among conservatives, are question marks for McCain, moving ahead. So is the fact that 42 percent of McCain's own voters said they were supporting him "with reservations," versus. 34 percent of Romney's.
As noted, evangelicals accounted for 23 percent of voters, versus. 60 percent in New Hampshire. McCain was surprisingly competitive in this group: Huckabee 32 percent, McCain 31 percent, Romney 24 percent. In Iowa, by contrast, Huckabee won 46 percent of evangelicals, Romney 19 percent, and McCain, 10 percent.