9:30 PM (CNSNews.com) - Shocking political observers and both campaigns, Arizona Senator John McCain scored a surprisingly large victory over Texas Governor George Bush in the nation's first primary in New Hampshire, while Vice President Al Gore narrowly beat former Senator Bill Bradley 53 percent to 46 percent.
With more than half of the precincts reporting, McCain has grabbed 47 percent of the vote, with Bush second at 31 percent and publisher Steve Forbes at 14 percent. Talk show host Alan Keyes is fourth with six percent, while conservative activist Gary Bauer has less than one percent.
Speaking at his campaign's headquarters in Manchester, Bradley came out swinging, reminding supporters that "there is still a tough fight ahead," and saying that he represented "a new politics of conviction and belief."
Bradley also congratulated Gore, but said that his campaign was "smarter, and prepared, and we're ready and eager to continue the fight."
"What is your dream for yourself, for your family, for your community, and for your nation? Can we in a time of prosperity afford to dream big dreams again? Can we afford to create a new politics in America?" Bradley asked the crowd. "That's the question that voters must decide in the weeks ahead."
To cheers of "go, John, go," McCain told supporters in Nashua that all GOP candidates "conducted their campaigns . . . with respect and cordiality," then said that voters in New Hampshire "have sent a powerful message to Washington that change is coming."
"It is the beginning of the end - because today the Republicans have returned to their roots as a party of reform - it is the beginning of the end of the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore," added McCain.
Speaking to supporters in Manchester, Bush praised McCain for his showing, then said, "New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front-runners, and this year is no exception. The road to the Republican nomination and the White House is a long road. Mine will go through all 50 states, and I intend for it to end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
"Mine is a campaign in every state in America, because mine is a message for every American," Bush added.
The next major Republican contest is in South Carolina, where a recent Time/CNN poll shows that McCain trails Bush 52 percent to 32 percent, up from a 47 point deficit in November.
"Thank you, God bless, and on to South Carolina," said McCain, as a flag in the shape of the Palmetto state unfurled behind the Arizona Senator.
"South Carolina is Bush country," the Texas Governor said in Manchester.
Exit polls indicate that McCain has taken the majority of New Hampshire's independent voters, plus won registered Republicans there 45 to 35 percent. He also won self-identified conservatives by four points, 38 percent to 34 percent.
Turnout in the primary was high, with a close race and good weather drawing more than half of New Hampshire's registered voters to the polls.