PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Trailing badly in New Hampshire just weeks ago, John Kerry (search) managed to ride the surge of his Iowa win into victory in the Granite State on Tuesday.
"I love New Hampshire. I hope with your help to have the blessings and the opportunity to love a lot of others states in the days to come. Thank you, New Hampshire, for lifting up this campaign," Kerry said to jubilant supporters.
Kerry won by a wide margin, with 39 percent against Howard Dean's (search) 26 percent. Wesley Clark (search) and John Edwards (search) were fighting for third with 12 percent and Joe Lieberman (search) had 9 percent, according to the 95 percent of precincts reporting.
"This victory belongs to all of you who made the phone calls, walked the snowy cold streets, gave your hearts, your hands, and countless sleepless nights. You stayed the course here in New Hampshire, and because of you this has been a successful and a happy campaign," said the Massachusetts senator, who campaigned until the last moment before the polls closed.
Surrounded by veterans and some of his Vietnam War buddies, Kerry said, "In the hardest moments of the past month, I depended on the same band of brothers that I depended on thirty years ago. We're a little older and a little grayer but I'll tell you this: We still know how to fight for our country."
With two big wins under its belt, the Kerry campaign argued that former front-runner Dean is now crippled.
"I don’t think you can come in third in Iowa, come in a rather distant second in New Hampshire and claim to have the moral authority, if you will, to continue the race. I think Howard Dean is really the walking wounded," said Mark Mellman, Kerry senior strategist.
Dean refused to call his second-place finish a defeat, but he shifted to a more subdued tone after his much-ridiculed concession speech in Iowa.
"The people of New Hampshire have allowed our campaign to regain its momentum, and the people of New Hampshire have allowed all of you to hope again that we are going to have real change in America," Dean told his supporters.
"We're very optimistic. I'm very pleased," Dean told Fox News. "I think we did well. I'm looking forward to going on to the thirteen states in the next ten days. I'm including D.C."
Washington, D.C., holds its Democratic caucuses on Feb. 14. Dean won a non-binding primary in the nation's capital on Jan. 13.
There was also a tight race for third, with Clark a whisker ahead of Edwards while Lieberman trailed. All three hoped a strong third-place showing would propel them on to breakthrough wins in later contests.
"It's important for me to show I can move up," Edwards said, as he hoped to capitalize on the momentum from his surprise second-place finish in Iowa.
"What I wanted to do was come from the low- to mid-single digits, which is where I was ten days ago, up to the teens," Edwards said as he joined the second-tier candidates in New Hampshire in claiming to meet low expectations.
Despite spending a good part of the past year campaigning in New Hampshire and holding more than 100 town hall meetings, Edwards could not overcome the built-in advantages of the New Englanders.
"They're from right next door," Edwards said of Kerry and Dean. "They're expected to do that."
The North Carolina senator is staking his candidacy on South Carolina, a centerpiece of next week's contests, and he said that his showing in New Hampshire will give him momentum heading into Dixie. "What this means is this campaign and this message is working," Edwards said. "And so I feel very good about South Carolina and these subsequent states."
Although Clark skipped the Iowa caucuses in order to focus his money and time in New Hampshire only to come in a distant third, he continued his characteristic optimism.
We came to New Hampshire "as one of the Elite Eight" but are leaving as "one of the Final Four," Clark told supporters, who chanted, "Go Wes go!"
Clark did just that — immediately after his speech, he boarded a plane to South Carolina.
Like Clark, Lieberman skipped Iowa, but had little to show for it, finishing fifth, but he tried to remain hopeful.
"Today the people in New Hampshire put me in the ring and that’s where we're going to stay. Today New Hampshire's next-door candidates Howard Dean and John Kerry received most of the vote, but the rest was split with no clear decision reached for us," Lieberman told his cheering supporters.
"I always said that I was going to start here, not finish here, and I was going to do better than expected. This is about more than the numbers for me and my supporters. It is a cause to make sure the Democratic Party stays in the mainstream," the Connecticut senator told Fox News.
Fox News' Steve Brown, Carl Cameron and Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.