A surge of support from women voters and a record-breaking turnout propelled Hillary Clinton's late rally that derailed Barack Obama in yesterday's New Hampshire Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, John McCain rocketed to a comeback triumph in the Republican primary over Mitt Romney with help from voters who admire his straight talk and say he is most qualified to be commander-in-chief.
With turnout shattering records, exit polls yesterday indicated that independents made up 43 percent of the Democratic turnout and broke for Obama over Clinton. But among registered Democrats, Clinton was the clear-cut favorite.
Eight years ago, in what was then a historic overall turnout, New Hampshire independents accounted for 30 percent of the Democratic primary electorate.
Clinton closed the gap in late tracking polls by reversing a trend in Iowa last week, where she finished third behind Obama and John Edwards.
In Iowa she trailed Obama among women. Women in the Granite State made up 57 percent of the Democratic electorate - and favored her by a 9-point margin over Obama, according to exit survey data posted on the CNN network website.
The Granite State results reflect the campaign theme of experience vs. change. In Iowa, change and Obama prevailed, but yesterday Clinton's margin of victory may have come from those voters who valued her experience in public life, the exit surveys indicated. About 1 in 5 voters said experience was the top quality they valued in a candidate, and Clinton led Obama by a 12 to 1 ratio among those voters.
Clinton also beat her Illinois rival heavily among voters over 65 (46 to 36 percent), in union households (40 to 32 percent), among lower-income voters and those who valued the quality of caring about people. The exit polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 to 5 percent.
Among Democratic primary voters, more than half said they wanted a candidate who could bring change, and Obama was their overwhelming choice by about 2 to 1 over Clinton, with third-place finisher Edwards, whose calls for change in Washington have a hard populist edge, trailing. By 39 percent to 29 percent, voters said she would be the best commander in chief in the six-candidate field.
Obama was a strong favorite among the young. He was the choice of almost two-thirds of voters ages 18 to 24, who represented about 1 in 10 Democratic voters, and he led the New Yorker among the college-educated voters, those with incomes above $50,000, and first-time primary voters.
Interviews with voters at polling stations in New Hampshire during the day bore out many of the survey findings.
Susan Keleher, a 38-year-old teacher from Manchester, said she voted for Clinton because of her plan for universal healthcare. Her 12-year-old daughter has a rare disease that requires 10 different medications, and the issue is "very personal to me," she said, characterizing Clinton's plan as the one that "would give my daughter the best chance."
Obama voter Len Ziefert, a retired probation-parole officer from Concord, said Obama "represents a move toward equality. . . . For the symbolism alone, I think it's worth the vote."
The Republican race turned on different factors.
McCain bested Romney in nearly every demographic category. Among voters who said that experience or saying what he believes is the most important quality in a candidate, McCain beat Romney handily.
On immigration, an issue Romney hit McCain hard on, Romney beat the Arizona senator among the 51 percent who said illegal immigrants should be deported. But McCain was the choice of those who favored giving the undocumented a chance for citizenship or guest-worker status.
Bob MacIntosh of Derry, a retired postal worker who voted for McCain in the 2000 primary against George W. Bush, said he voted for McCain after researching some of the charges by Romney on McCain's immigration record and determining that they were not accurate.
His wife, Connie, a retired nurse, was one of many independent voters interviewed who wavered between taking a Republican or Democratic ballot. In the end, she said she put aside concerns about McCain's age (he's 71) and cast a vote for him.
McCain beat Romney among GOP voters who described themselves as moderates and liberals, and among both registered Republicans and independents, who made up 34 percent of the Republican turnout. Romney led among self-described conservatives. McCain was also the choice of Republicans opposed to the war in Iraq.
On the issues, the economy, followed by Iraq topped the list of most important issues for both Democrats and Republicans, with 98 percent of Democratic primary voters saying they are worried about the state of the economy. Ranking third for Democrats was healthcare; for Republicans immigration.
President Bush's unpopularity has not abated in New Hampshire, based on yesterday's exit polls. More than half of Republican voters and 92 percent of Democrats said they held a negative opinion of the Bush administration.
Some voters were eager to send a message expressing their anger or concern with the country's direction.
Jay Pisarri, of Derry, an administrator at a book publisher, was one. "I would have voted for [Republican] Ron Paul because he's almost over the top but wants to give power back to the people. But when I checked in, I found I was a registered Democrat, not an independent, so I voted for Obama. I have some faith. I believe what he says; that he's going to take action."
Charlie Savage and Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.