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Voters in the state took to the polls on Tuesday for the first primary in the 2016 presidential race — an important contest that could winnow the GOP race before the next showdown in South Carolina. Trump and Sanders, two self-styled outsider candidates running larger-than-life campaigns, were polling for weeks as the likely winners in New Hampshire despite the fact that many wouldn't have originally anticipated their sustained momentum.
And so, most expected to watch Tuesday night for which GOP hopeful could secure a second-place finish in the Granite State.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is projected to finish second, NBC said just after 11 p.m. ET. The runner-up position represented an important victory for Kasich, who has been embroiled in a multi-polar fight for support from the Republican establishment: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were also vying for a second-place finish in New Hampshire.
Trump is the national front-runner for the GOP election, according to every major poll, leading Cruz and Rubio who are averaging second and third place, respectively. But while some polls show the race in single-digits contention nationally, Trump has long held a more comfortable lead in New Hampshire surveys.
On Tuesday night, the real estate developer delivered a rousing victory lap, hitting on the major themes of his campaign.
"We are going to start winning again, and we are going to win so much, you are going to be so happy, we are going to make America so great again — maybe greater than ever before," Trump said at the conclusion of his speech. "We are going now to South Carolina, we're going to win in South Carolina."
And while Trump rides a national wave of populism, candidates like former Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kasich have been hoping to emerge as the standard-bearer for the party establishment.
Rubio had seemed best positioned to consolidate establishment support, but apparent stumbles in Saturday's debate may have hurt his momentum.
Facing a worse result than his campaign had hoped for, Rubio said Tuesday night that blame for the evening's disappointment rested on his shoulders. "I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this: That will never happen again," he said.
Prophetically, Google tweeted before the last polls closed that Kasich was the top-searched GOP candidate in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Just last week, the governor said if he got "smoked" in New Hampshire he would go home to Ohio, so the strong primary finish will likely reinvigorate his campaign.
Still, Kasich faces an uphill battle: He has polled near the bottom among GOP contenders in South Carolina.
And on the Democratic side, Sanders had been expected to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — he led the former New York senator by a sizable margin in most recent statewide polls. Still, Clinton's campaign had been pushing for a last-minute surge, ramping up its attacks on Sanders in recent days.
Sanders, however, appeared to win a comfortable majority in the Democratic primary, and the senator pitched himself as the strongest general election candidate in his victory speech.
"We won because we harnessed the energy and the excitement that the Democratic Party will need to succeed in November," he said. "What happened here in New Hampshire in terms of an enthusiastic and aroused electorate, people who came out in large numbers, that is what will happen all over this country."
Acknowledging that his campaign's momentum puts a target on his back, Sanders said "they're throwing everything at me except the kitchen sink — and I have the feeling that kitchen sink is coming pretty soon as well."
An NBC News exit poll of New Hampshire democratic race voters found considerable variation in the kinds of voters who came out for Sanders: That poll found 85 percent under 30 years old, 72 percent of independents, 68 percent of gun owners, and 65 percent of those identifying as very liberal came out for the Vermont senator.
As for gender, NBC exit poll results indicated that Sanders not only captured 64 percent of male Democratic primary voters, but he also won 53 percent of women.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus deemed Clinton's New Hampshire defeat a "devastating blow for her campaign" in a Tuesday night statement.
"No amount of spin can make up for such a crushing defeat in a state that has for decades been in the Clintons' corner," he said.
Clinton eked out a win against Sanders in the Democratic Iowa caucus last week, but she has held the lead in every recent major national poll.
Cruz defeated Trump in Iowa, which led some to question whether the New York businessman's political ground game is up to the challenge.
NBC News early exit poll results showed that 42 percent of Republican primary voters consider themselves independents, and 39 percent of voters in the Democratic primary identify as independents. Exit poll results also showed that New Hampshire Republican voters are generally angrier than Democrats about the state of the federal government, but they're generally less conservative than their Iowa counterparts.