Washington, 2 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The contest for the U.S. Republican Party's presidential nomination became a serious competition yesterday with Arizona Senator John McCain's victory over Texas Governor George Bush in a runup election in the northeastern state of New Hampshire.
In the race for the presidential nomination of the other dominant U.S. party, the Democrats, Vice President Al Gore continued to put distance between himself and his only serious challenger -- former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley.
Bush is the son of former President George Bush. Most political commentators have declared Bush the favorite of Republican Party leaders. However, results from 98 percent of the voting precincts showed McCain receiving 114,047 votes or 49 percent; Bush had 71,492 votes or 31 percent. Among the other Republicans, magazine publisher Steve Forbes took 13 percent; Alan Keyes, a former U.S. envoy at the United Nations, received 6 percent; and social activist Gary Bauer took 1 percent.
In remarks to his campaign supporters, McCain said that "a wonderful New Hampshire campaign has come to an end, but a great national crusade has just begun."
Bush called the outcome a minor setback in a state known for disappointing front-runners. The margin, however, was viewed a jolting one for a campaign that had expected no worse than a narrow defeat.
However, Bush pledged that his campaign would end with an ultimate victory, the presidency on Nov. 7 -- election day.
New Hampshire was the first of what are called primary elections. There will be more than 30 of them in the weeks ahead among the rest of the 50 states. In a primary, a state's voters make their preferences for a presidential candidate. Some states restrict allow only registered party members to choose. Other states, like New Hampshire, allow all registered voters to participate.
The victorious candidate receives guaranteed pledges of support from either all or a portion of a state party organization's delegates who will make the formal nominations at the party conventions in August.
An Associated Press analysis showed McCain was winning 10 out of the total 17 delegates at stake Tuesday. Bush was winning five and Forbes two. To win the Republican nomination, a candidate needs about 1,100 delegate votes. A Democrat needs more than 2,000 delegates.
While all the primaries and other forms of choosing delegates do not end until June, the nominations are really expected to be decided by the end of March at the latest. That is after the biggest states hold their primary elections.
The next big test for Bush and McCain is the primary in the southern state of South Carolina on February 19.
The Democrats do not have another primary until March 7. Gore, who is seen as the favorite of party leaders to succeed President Bill Clinton, contended that he dealt "a devastating blow" to Bradley. However, Bradley did not concede the campaign and said he will be a smarter, tougher candidate in the weeks ahead.