Clinton roars back to victory in New Hampshire

( dpa ) - A beaming Hillary Clinton rebounded to victory Tuesday in the New Hampshire presidential primary, braking Barack Obama's momentum and restoring a neck-and-neck race for the centre- left Democratic Party nomination.

Senator John McCain, a backer of the US troop buildup in Iraq, won the centre-right Republican Party poll.

In a surprise turnaround, Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, defied New Hampshire surveys that had suggested a double- digit lead for Obama after his win in last week's Iowa caucuses, the first preference poll of the 2008 election cycle. But with most primaries still ahead, Obama's bid to become the first black president remains strong.

"Now, together, let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me," Clinton, 60, told cheering supporters. "It's time we had a president who stands up for all of you."

Sharpening her message with a view to the next primaries, Clinton said she would bring US troops home from Iraq, restore US "standing, credibility and respect around the world" and stand up for "the invisible Americans" who struggle to pay their bills.

Clinton won in the small, north-eastern state after several days of attacking Obama as a skilled speaker who lacks substance. During a five-day blitz in New Hampshire, she also provided an already iconic moment when she choked up and held back tears during a campaign stop.

With more than 90 per cent of the state's precincts reporting, Clinton polled 39 per cent to Obama's 37 per cent, righting her campaign to become the first woman to be US president. Former US senator John Edwards was third at 17 per cent.

Clinton has run on her experience - eight years in the White House during husband Bill Clinton's presidency, followed in her own right by seven years in the US Senate.

Obama, who rode to victory in Iowa on a stirring message of change and political unity, conceded defeat in New Hampshire after returns showed Clinton with a steady lead throughout the vote count.

"I am still fired up and ready to go," he told supporters. "I want to congratulate Senator Clinton on a hard-fought victory here in New Hampshire."

With his supporters shouting "Yes we can, yes we can," the US senator from Illinois clung to his basic message.

"We know the battle ahead will be long. But ... nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change," said Obama, 46. "There has never been anything false about hope."

In the Republican primary, Vietnam War hero McCain, 71, claimed victory with 37 per cent over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, once the New Hampshire front-runner, who ran second on the night with 32 per cent. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who scored a breakout victory last week in Iowa, was a distant third Tuesday night with 11 per cent.

"Tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like," McCain exclaimed to a cheering crowd of supporters in Nashua, New Hampshire. "We celebrate one victory tonight and leave for Michigan tomorrow to win another."

Michigan holds the next contest on January 15 in the series of state-by-state votes to determine the major-party nominees.

New Hampshire appeared firmly in Clinton's corner only last week. Then, Obama capitalized on his momentum after Iowa and overtook her in the polls.

Former president Bill Clinton, still popular among Democrats and a key element in his wife's White House bid, landed some last-minute barbs against Obama on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, Obama picked up effusive praise from former US secretary of state Colin Powell, the first African American to hold the post, who said he was "impressed" with the youthful Illinois senator.

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