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Sanders, Trump win New Hampshire primary

In record voting turn-out, democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and billionaire Donald Trump finish first in New Hampshire primary
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reacts on stage during a primary night rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on 9 February, 2016 (AFP)

Billionaire Donald Trump and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won decisive victories in New Hampshire's presidential primaries on Tuesday, turning the American political establishment on its head early in the long nominations battle.

In a field of five Republican candidates, Trump was almost 20 points ahead of his nearest rival John Kasich, taking 35 percent of primary votes against Kasich's 15.9 percent, pushing Ted Cruz into third place on 11.6 percent.

In a straight two-way fight between long-time nomination favourite Hillary Clinton and left-wing insurgent Sanders in New Hampshire, the 74-year-old Vermont senator won 60 percent of Democratic votes to Clinton's 38 percent.

"When we stand together, we win. Thank you, New Hampshire!" tweeted Sanders, who is treated like a local hero in this state that borders Vermont, which he represents in the US Senate.

Once every four years, the nation's eyes focus on New Hampshire, the small northeastern state that is home to just 1.3 million people, and which holds the first state primaries after the Iowa caucuses kick off the US presidential nomination process.

Officials were predicting a record turnout.

New Hampshire sets the tone for the primaries to come - and could whittle down a crowded Republican field as the arch-conservative Senator Ted Cruz and more mainstream candidates battle for second place behind frontrunner Trump.

But the state's primaries are known for their surprises, leaving several candidates hopeful that they can outperform the narrative established by months of polling.

The result opens up a fierce battle for main challenger to Trump on the Republican side among Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio.

A RealClearPolitics poll average showed Sanders - who has called for nothing short of a "political revolution" - leading 54.5 percent to 41.2 percent for Clinton in the state. In the end Sanders' win was more emphatic than the polls had predicted.

At his victory party, Sander put in a not so subtle dig at Clinton's Democratic establishment and wealthy backers: “Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California, and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their super PACS.”

Trump and Sanders on Muslim Americans, Middle East policy

Sanders and Trump have very different visions in regard to Middle East policy and Muslim Americans. While Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, Sanders has decried surging Islamophobia in the country.

Trump has called President Barack Obama's response to the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria weak, and has vowed to "bomb the shit out of them". 

Sanders has a similar approach to Obama, calling for the creation of broad coalitions against IS with troops from Middle Eastern countries on the ground rather than US combat forces.

In the Republican debate on Thursday, Trump voiced his support for waterboarding as a tactic against militant suspects held in US custody. If he becomes president, he said, he plans to "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding". 

Meanwhile, a New Hampshire exit poll on Tuesday said that around two-thirds of Republican voters in the state supported Trump's Muslim ban plan.

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