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Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders, arrives to speak to supporters at a primary night election rally in Manchester, N.H.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press

Bernie Sanders has edged Pete Buttigieg in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, winning a narrow victory for the left in a crowded field and divided party.

The self-described socialist Vermont senator had 26 per cent of the vote with 95 per cent of precincts reporting to 24 per cent for the moderate former South Bend, Ind. mayor — a near-repeat of their virtual draw last week in Iowa.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, another moderate, scored a surprise third place with 20 per cent after a strong debate performance propelled a surge for her in the last week. It was a rough night for both progressive Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and moderate former vice-president Joe Biden, who were sitting around nine and eight per cent, respectively. Mr. Biden – once the race’s front-runner – jetted out of the state before voting had even finished.

The split result in the marathon race’s second contest leaves the competition deadlocked as it moves past two small, overwhelmingly white states and to more diverse Nevada and South Carolina. And it sets the stage for a potentially protracted and acrimonious primary season.

At Mr. Sanders’s victory party in a university gymnasium in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, legions of his mostly young supporters stamped the floor and chanted “Bernie beats Trump” and “Wall Street Pete” — a reference to Mr. Buttigieg’s fundraising among the country’s financial elites.

The crowd erupted into a chorus of boos when a jumbotron tuned to CNN broadcast Mr. Buttigieg’s speech.

Mr. Sanders himself tried to tamp down the divisions with a call for conciliation.

“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he said from the stage, surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren. “I want to take the opportunity to express my appreciation and respect for all of the Democratic candidates we ran against … No matter who wins, and we certainly hope it’s going to be us, we’re going to unite together.”

While the victory keeps Mr. Sanders’s momentum rolling, the result in his neighbouring state falls far short of his decisive 22-point win in 2016.

Combined with the result in Iowa, New Hampshire has given Mr. Buttigieg a major boost as he aims to take over the moderate lane in the race from Mr. Biden, who is polling better nationally, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who is skipping the early states to pour his vast fortune into later contests.

In his speech, Mr. Buttigieg made no reference to the fact that he had finished second.

“As we prepare to go west for the first in the west contest in Nevada, as we head to a state that looks like the future, I ask you to join us in taking a stand for a better tomorrow,” he said in Nashua, N.H.

Ms. Klobuchar breathed new life into her previously struggling campaign with a clutch performance. “I came back and we delivered,” she said in Concord, the state capital. “America deserves a president who is as resilient as her people.”

Mr. Sanders built his victory on a flood of enthusiastic volunteers and the best fundraising operation in the race, despite not raising money from wealthy donors.

He was treated like a rockstar on the hustings, with armies of fans queuing up outside his rallies and cheering deliriously for him. The night before the vote, more than 7,500 of them packed into a rally that included a performance by The Strokes.

To his supporters, Mr. Sanders’s appeal is a mix of ambitious policy promises – universal health care, free university tuition and aggressive action on climate change – and his perceived authenticity. He has been fighting for substantially the same political agenda since the 1960s.

“I love how consistent he’s been throughout history,” said Julianna Larue, a 19-year-old university student at his victory party. “He speaks a lot to the younger generations because he wants us to live in a better world.”

The boyish Mr. Buttigieg, for his part, has been on the ascendancy for the past two weeks, portraying himself as the party’s hope for stopping Mr. Sanders. The former mayor has sold himself as a conciliator who can bring moderate Republicans fed up with Mr. Trump into the party.

Paul Wilson, a 72-year-old mathematics professor, said Mr. Buttigieg was a safer bet to take on Mr. Trump because Mr. Sanders would be easier for the President to tarnish.

“What we’ve had for the last few years is this politics by assassination. They will do it for sure with Bernie because he’s a socialist,” said Mr. Wilson as he left a Buttigieg rally at Plymouth State University.

But Mr. Buttigieg faces a steep hill. He lags far behind in national polls, and is stuck in single digits in South Carolina and Nevada.

South Carolina, where some two-thirds of Democrats are black, will be a particular problem for Mr. Buttigieg, who has struggled to answer questions about disproportionate arrests of black people for marijuana possession in South Bend during his mayoralty.

Ms. Klobuchar is also mired in single digits nationally, and in both of the next two states.

New Hampshire is unrepresentative of the country as a whole: It has only 1.4 million residents and is 93 per cent white. But the state has made its disproportionate influence felt. Since 1972, the eventual Democratic nominee has placed either first or second here.

Ms. Warren reminded supporters Tuesday that there are still 48 state contests to go. And she delivered a sharp warning against negative campaigning.

“These harsh tactics might work if you’re willing to burn down the rest of the party in order to be the last man standing,” she said in Manchester. “We can’t afford to fall into factions.”

In the past week, Mr. Biden unleashed attack ads mocking Mr. Buttigieg’s inexperience and Mr. Buttigieg derided Mr. Sanders as a man with “extreme” policies.

Mr. Biden appeared to grow increasingly irascible as his prospects faded in New Hampshire. At one event, he called a university student a “lying dog-faced pony soldier” in an exchange over his poor result in Iowa. And on Tuesday, he left New Hampshire midway through the day as his rivals waited for the results.

“It ain’t over, man. It’s just getting started,” Mr. Biden said at a rally South Carolina.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who gained a cult following on the internet with a promise to give every American US$1,000 a month if elected president, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet both suspended their campaigns Tuesday after finishing in the low single digits. Billionaire Tom Steyer and Representative Tulsi Gabbard had similarly dismal finishes but looked set to stay in the race.

With reports from Jacob White and Irelyne Lavery in Nashua, N.H.