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Bernie Sanders meets voters in Iowa. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders meets voters in Iowa. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Riding high: Democrat Bernie Sanders at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: AP

Riding high: Democrat Bernie Sanders at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: AP

AP

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Bernie Sanders meets voters in Iowa. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democrats vying for the right to challenge US President Donald Trump turned their focus to Nevada and South Carolina after Bernie Sanders solidified his front-runner status with a narrow victory in New Hampshire, with Pete Buttigieg close behind him.

While Mr Sanders, a US senator from neighbouring Vermont, and Mr Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, finished first and second in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary respectively, the contest also showed the growing appeal of US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who placed third after surging over the past few days.

Two Democrats whose fortunes have been fading - US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former vice president Joe Biden - limped out of New Hampshire, finishing fourth and fifth respectively amid fresh questions about the viability of their candidacies.

New Hampshire was the second contest in the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Mr Trump, a Republican, in the November 3 election. Mr Sanders and Mr Buttigieg finished in a virtual tie in the first contest last week in Iowa and won an equal number of delegates - who formally vote at the party's convention in July to select a nominee - in New Hampshire, according to early projections.

The campaign's focus now begins to shift to states more demographically diverse than the largely white and rural kickoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The next contest is on February 22 in Nevada, where more than a quarter of the residents are Latino, followed a week later by South Carolina, where about a quarter are African-American.

After that, 14 states, including California and Texas, vote in the March 3 contests known as Super Tuesday, which will also be the first time voters see the name of billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the Democratic presidential ballot.

Democrats must decide whether their best choice to challenge Mr Trump would be a moderate like Mr Buttigieg, Ms Klobuchar or Mr Biden - or a candidate further to the left like Mr Sanders or Ms Warren.

In New Hampshire, Mr Sanders had 26pc of the vote and Mr Buttigieg had 24pc with more than 91pc of precincts reporting. Ms Klobuchar had 20pc, Ms Warren 9pc and Mr Biden 8pc.

Mr Buttigieg yesterday said his strong results in Iowa and New Hampshire showed he had momentum going forward, "settling the questions of whether we could build a campaign across age groups and different kinds of communities".

Mr Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay US president if elected, still faces questions about what opinion polls show is his weakness with black voters, one of the most loyal and vital Democratic voting blocs.

Asked about how he could gain the confidence of racial minority voters, Mr Buttigieg told MSNBC he was focused on economic empowerment and suggested he had learned lessons, sometimes "the hard way", as mayor of South Bend. He pointed to a plan he released last summer aimed at fighting racism, and said it was getting another look from voters given his primary results.

"I think we're getting a whole new look from black and Latino voters who have so much riding on making sure that we defeat Donald Trump, because they are among those with most to lose if they have to endure yet another term of this president," he said.

In a sign of the growing rivalry between Mr Sanders (78) and Mr Buttigieg (38), supporters for the senator booed and chanted "Wall Street Pete!" when Mr Buttigieg's post-primary speech was shown on screens.

"This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump," Mr Sanders told supporters.

Turnout in the New England state approached the record of 287,000 set in 2008, the year of Barack Obama's historic candidacy, easing Democratic concerns about voter engagement after a lower-than-expected turnout in Iowa.

The Democratic field shrank to nine main candidates after businessman Andrew Yang and Senator Michael Bennet, who had trailed in the polls and performed poorly on Tuesday, dropped out.

Mr Biden, who was once the front-runner in the Democratic race, stumbled to his second consecutive poor finish after placing fourth in Iowa. He is certain to face growing questions about his ability to consolidate moderate support against a surging Mr Buttigieg and Ms Klobuchar.

"It ain't over, man. It's just getting started," an energetic Mr Biden (77) told supporters in South Carolina.

Irish Independent