Manchester, NH (CNSNews.com) - In a contest far closer than tracking polls indicated it would be, Vice President Al Gore Tuesday defeated former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley in the New Hampshire Democratic primary contest.
With 90 percent of the votes counted, Gore had 68,172 votes, or 52 percent, to 61,556 votes, or 47 percent, for Bradley.
An estimated 70 percent of the state's registered voters cast ballots in the Republican and Democratic contests.
Final tracking polls had showed Gore winning by as much as 12 points, while his margin of victory turned out to be only five points. University of New Hampshire Pollster Andy Smith said Bradley was able to reverse his slide of the last two weeks, once he decided to become more aggressive in responding to Gore.
Looking at the categories, Bradley did better among men, edging Gore 52-37 percent. Among college graduates, Bradley bested Gore 54-45 percent. Bradley also beat Gore among Independents (62-34 percent) who opted to vote in the Democratic primary.
On the issues, Bradley topped Gore 62-34 percent among those who voiced concerns about the nation's economy; and among Democrats concerned about health care, Bradley walloped Gore 61-38 percent.
Exit polls show Bradley also captured the votes of 57 percent of those who waited until the very last minute to decide who they would vote for
As for Vice President Gore, the exit polls show he received his strongest support from the Democratic Party's traditional base, including women, union members and the elderly.
For Gore, victory was sweet. "For months we were the underdogs here," he told his supporters. "We were outspent, but never outworked," Gore insisted. "We are a better and more focused campaign" he said, because of the Bradley challenge. "The voters here listened and responded to our campaign. We have a great opportunity now to take our message all across the country."
Gore said he learned a lesson when the early polls showed him trailing Bradley. "When I fell behind, I went back to the people and listened carefully...I responded to you...and how we could make this country better for your future."
Bradley told his disheartened supporters, "We have made a remarkable turnaround." And he reminded them, "There is still a tough fight ahead," leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that he was in the race to stay.
"We're smarter and better prepared and we're eager to continue the fight," Bradley said to cheers. And with $8.3 million on hand, versus Gore's $5.7 million, most observers believe Bradley has the financial ability to stay in the race.
Calling for "a new politics in America," Bradley said, "This election is a choice between philosophies of leadership...between those who are not content with the great prosperity and those who have failed to use what prosperity has given us."
Bradley told his audience his campaign represented "a new politics rooted in conviction and belief," adding, "This generation of Americans has a chance to be a great generation." Many in his audience believe that Bradley recently squandered his lead in New Hampshire by failing to fight back when attacked by Gore.
Despite his victory, exit polls indicate that many New Hampshire voters are less than happy with Al Gore.
In informal discussions with voters leaving polling places in Manchester and Portsmouth, CNSNews.com found many Democrats annoyed at what one characterized as "the vice president's inability to level."
Several party stalwarts expressed annoyance at Gore's reluctance to own up to the pro-life votes he cast while serving in the US House of Representatives.
"I really don't care how he voted way back them. What I care about is his reluctance to admit what he once stood for, especially since he put it in writing," said one seacoast voter.
"The failure to admit that he once had doubts about abortion, makes him look much like Bill Clinton," said another. "It's like he doesn't really care about the truth. I'm tired of that."
With Bradley now having lost both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, supporters were hard pressed to respond, when asked to name a place where their man might win. Some were hopeful New York and Connecticut would provide victories. Other mentioned California as a possible win, since Bradley has five weeks to blanket that western state.
"He will leave here with close to half the vote," said Mary Rauh, a Bradley confidante in New Hampshire. "This is really a strong message from the voters of New Hampshire. It's something we can build on."