WASHINGTON (AP) _ In the land of comebacks, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain revived their sagging campaigns Tuesday night and catapulted the Democratic and Republican presidential races into a surprise state of chaos.
Neither could afford to lose New Hampshire. Suddenly, the fallen front-runners look like winners again.
Clinton defied campaign-closing polls and the expectations of her own advisers to pull out a narrow victory over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the self-styled agent of change bidding to be the nation's first black president. She won with a last-minute show of emotion and pointed criticism of Obama, the harshest attacks coming from her husband, Bill.
In 1992, Bill Clinton dubbed himself "the Comeback Kid" after finishing a surprising second in New Hampshire.
McCain claimed the title Tuesday night after riding a wave of support from independent voters to defeat Mitt Romney.
"My friends, I'm past the age when I can claim the noun 'kid,' no matter what adjective proceeds it, but tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like," he told supporters as they shouted, "Mac is back!"
Celebrating her stunning upset, Clinton told supporters, "Let's give America the kind of comeback New Hampshire has just given me."
Clinton and McCain started out as presumptive favorites. Both lost their luster — Clinton with her crushing loss to Obama in Iowa last week and McCain with the near-collapse of his campaign last summer.
And now they're back, almost on top, in the wildest and most unpredictable presidential race of a lifetime.
Against predictions of a second straight defeat to Obama, Clinton won because:
• Women rallied to her side. She won the female vote by more than 10 percentage points, according to exit polls, after losing among women in Iowa.
• The youth vote did not lift Obama as it did in Iowa. He won 51 percent of votes cast by people under 30, compared with 57 percent in Iowa.
• Clinton somehow stalled Obama's momentum. Nearly four of every 10 voters selected a candidate in the last three days of the campaign, splitting their votes between Obama and Clinton.
Exit polls don't pinpoint why these three things happened, but there are several possibilities.
First, New Hampshire has a history of putting the brakes on surging candidacies, and the Clintons spoke to that sense of prudence by suggesting that Obama was not ready for the White House.
They urged New Hampshire to give the nation a chance to give Obama a second look.
"Some of us are ready," Hillary Clinton said on the eve of the primary, "and some of us are not." She even dusted off a line Walter Mondale used against Gary Hart 24 years ago: "Where's the beef?"
Second, the Clintons went negative on Obama's record to say he has not been consistent on a host of issues, including the Iraq war. Obama constantly trumpets his early opposition to the war without informing voters that, like Clinton, he later voted to pay for it.
"There's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since," Bill Clinton said of Obama. "Give me a break! This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
Third, aides had urged her to show more passion and emotion, and, coincidentally or not, she did so by nearly breaking down during a restaurant appearance. Eyes welling up and voice quavering, she declared the campaign "is very personal for me. It's not just political."
But make no mistake: The moment was a political masterstroke. "I listened to you," Clinton told supporters Tuesday night, "and in the process I found my own voice."
Finally, Obama and fellow Democrat John Edwards joined forces in a Saturday debate to portray Clinton as a hostage of the status quo. They scored debate points, but Clinton may have won voters' sympathy.
She showed a soft and self-deprecating side known only to friends when asked what she could say to voters who don't find her likable enough. "Well, that hurts my feelings," she said with a flirty smile, "but I'll try to go on."
Thanks to New Hampshire, she and McCain can go on.
The Democratic race moves to Nevada and South Carolina, two states that looked solidly Obama until Tuesday night.
The Republican race moves to Michigan, where McCain is strong, and South Carolina, a hotbed of social conservatives that destroyed his campaign in 2000. Waiting for him will be the winner of the Iowa GOP caucuses, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
By keeping McCain and Clinton afloat, New Hampshire ensured that both races will continue at least until Feb. 5, when voters in two dozen states will get their chance to end the chaos.