WASHINGTON - Presidential contenders turned their attention Wednesday to the grueling primaries ahead, with Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain seeking to capitalize on the themes that powered their comebacks in New Hampshire. "Nothing quite as invigorating as a win," McCain said.
Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire left the race for the White House wide open, and Barack Obama, the surprise loser to Clinton in New Hampshire, said unpredictability has become the hallmark of the race.
"Anyone who thinks they know how voters are going to respond at this point are probably misleading themselves," the Illinois senator said Wednesday. "And I think voters are not going to let any candidate take anything for granted. They want to lift the hood, kick the tires. They want us to earn it."
Clinton, in morning talk show appearances, attributed her win in part to her success late in the race in telling voters why she's in public life, a reference to her choking up when a voter asked her how she was faring. Asked whether that was a turnaround for her, she said, "I think it could well have been."
McCain did well among New Hampshire's concerned with national security and the threat of terrorism. "Those are the themes," he said. "I have the knowledge and experience and judgment."
Clinton, McCain and Obama commented in a round of talk show appearances on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.
New Hampshire placed Clinton squarely back in the contest for the Democratic nomination after her third-place finish in Iowa and revived McCain's hopes seven months after his campaign had seemed to be down for the count.
For all the candidates going the distance, the new focus is Michigan (Jan. 15), South Carolina (Republicans, Jan. 19; Democrats Jan. 26), Nevada (Jan. 19) and Florida (Jan. 29). Two dozen states vote on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.
The victories for McCain and Clinton were evidence of New Hampshire's prickly habit of rejecting those chosen by Iowa voters a few days earlier and raised the prospect of a drawn-out nomination battle between two history-making candidates: Clinton, who would be the first woman to hold the presidency, and Obama, who would be the first president of African-American descent.
"I am still fired up and ready to go," a defeated Obama told his own backers. "We know the battle ahead will be long. But always remember that, no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change."
McCain rode a wave of support from independent voters to defeat former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a showing that reprised the senator's victory in the traditional first-in-the-nation primary in 2000 before he was knocked out of the race in South Carolina where independent voters do not vote in the party primaries.
The results were a bitter blow to Romney, the Republican who spent millions of dollars of his own money to win the kickoff Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — only to finish second in both.
Even so, the businessman-turned politician said he would meet McCain next week in Michigan, and he cast himself as just what the country needed to fix Washington. "I don't care who gets the credit, Republican or Democrat. I've got no scores to settle," he told supporters.
Meanwhile Republican Mike Huckabee, the Arkansas governor who won the leadoff Iowa caucuses, finished third in New Hampshire. He was never a threat to McCain or Romney on Tuesday, but he predicted the third-place finish would give him enough momentum to continue in the race.
"In Michigan, in South Carolina, in Florida ... what you helped us continue will be carried right on through," he told supporters. "It won't be long we're going to be able to secure the nomination and on to the White House and on to leading America."
Third place on the Democratic side went to former Sen. John Edwards, who said he had no intent of dropping out. Instead, he hoped to keep the race a three-way contest. "Two races down, 48 states left to go," he declared.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani bolted New Hampshire for Florida even before the ballots were counted for Florida, the state he expected to propel him in the polls, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who ran third in Iowa, was already in South Carolina after giving up on New Hampshire long ago.
McCain and Romney set their sights on Michigan's balloting Jan. 15, with Romney pausing first for a fundraiser in Boston on Wednesday.
Obama, too, was set for fundraisers in New Jersey, while Edwards focused on South Carolina, where he was born, in advance of the Jan. 26 Democratic balloting there.
Clinton, meanwhile, was expected to lie low Wednesday and huddle with aides about the way forward.
With 96 percent of the New Hampshire vote tabulated before counters shut down for the night, Clinton had 39 percent, Obama 36 percent and Edwards 17 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson trailed with 5 percent.
On the Republican side, McCain had 37 percent, Romney 32 percent, Huckabee 11 percent, Giuliani 9 percent and Rep. Ron Paul 8 percent. Thompson got 1 percent.
Weekend polling in New Hampshire indicated Clinton and Obama were running about even among women, but the former first lady went on to best Obama among women by 13 percentage points. Women also voted in much larger numbers than men.
Still, Clinton's message of experience was not what most Democratic voters sought.
More than half of Democratic voters were looking for a candidate who could bring changes, while only 20 percent said they were looking for experience. But fewer young voters turned out for Obama than in Iowa, depriving him of crucial support. And he lost many independents to McCain.