As John McCain began his victory speech in Nashua, New Hampshire, a chant filled the room: "Mac is back! Mac is back!" McCain had scored a resounding victory in the first primary election on the long road to the White House. The Arizona Senator hopes to become the Republican nominee. At 71, he is the oldest candidate in the race. This summer, critics said he was out of the running. "My friends, I'm past the age when I can claim the noun kid, no matter what adjective precedes it," he told his cheering supporters. "But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like."
At her headquarters, Democratic contender Hillary Clinton urged jubilant supporters to look ahead to November. "Let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me," she said. The Senator from New York hopes to be the nation's first woman President.
After she lost the Iowa caucus five days earlier to Illinois Senator Barack Obama, some predicted Clinton was headed for another defeat in New Hampshire. But she surged ahead of Obama, winning 39% of the vote to his 36%. John Edwards came in third with 17%.One Long, Drawn-out Process
Candidates face a winding road of contests before they can claim their party's nomination. A primary works much the same way as a general election. Citizens cast secret ballots for a candidate. A caucus is more like a neighborhood meeting where participants gather to express their preference for a candidate. In both contests, delegates are chosen who will represent the voters at their party's conventions this summer.
In addition to the elected delegates, each party has "super delegates," party leaders who also get a say at the convention. The Democratic Convention will be held in Denver, Colorado, from August 25 to 28. Four days later, on September 1, the Republicans will open their meeting in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. It will run until September 4.
The goal for each presidential hopeful is to gain a majority of delegates and come away with the party's nomination. Although McCain won in New Hampshire with 37% of the vote, he is third when it comes to delegates. So far, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won big in Iowa, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who came in second in both states, have racked up more delegates.
On the Democratic side, Obama holds a slight delegate lead over Clinton and Edwards. As Joe Trippi, who works for Edwards, told TIME's David Von Drehle: "The only thing you can conclude after (New Hampshire) is that this is going to be one long, drawn-out process."The Grand Finale
After New Hampshire, Edwards's rallying cry was, "Two races down, 48 states left to go." Next on the agenda are contests in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida. And then Super Tuesday, February 5, when some two dozen states, including California, Illinois and New York, hold contests.
Last Wednesday, Obama's campaign got a boost when he won the backing of Nevada's Culinary Workers Union. The support of its 60,000 members should help in the Nevada caucuses, slated for January 19. "Voters are not going to let any candidate take anything for granted," Obama said. "They want us to earn it."
New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination on Thursday. Richardson had hoped to become the first Hispanic President. He asked voters to "take a long and thoughtful look" at the other candidates.
Although many candidates hit the campaign trail after leaving New Hampshire, Clinton headed home to Chappaqua, New York. She needed to "take a deep breath," she said, before the "February 5th grand finale." Of course, the real grand finale won't be until Election Day, November 4.