MANCHESTER, N.H. — Billionaire businessman Donald Trump rode his anti-establishment message to an easy win in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, with a tight race shaping up for second place.
Supporters at a Trump rally in Manchester cheered as the networks projected the win just minutes after polls closed in New Hampshire, and hours after he urged voters to get to the polls and help him rally from last week's second-place finish in Iowa.
"The people have to go out and vote, you know?" Trump told had MSNBC's Morning Joe as polls showed him with double-digit leads in the Granite State.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — the winner in Iowa — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared to be bunched tightly together in a fight for the runner-up spot, far behind Trump, according to early returns.
Further back: Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
While Trump entered primary day as the betting favorite, the other candidates jostled for position as part of an overall battle to become the main alternative to the New York billionaire in upcoming Republican contests.
Many of the New Hampshire candidates planned to leave immediately for South Carolina, site of the next Republican primary on Feb. 20.
Candidates and their aides had acknowledged that Trump was the favorite in New Hampshire but argued that a smaller-than-expected margin of victory would be a sign his support is soft. It was unclear early Tuesday evening how large Trump's win would be.
A single-digit win "won't mean much," said former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who has not made an endorsement but is critical of Trump.
Rubio, who finished a stronger-than-expected third in last week's Iowa caucuses and tried to recover from a shaky debate performance on Saturday, told Fox News he is looking at a drawn-out race for the GOP presidential nomination.
"Obviously, we want to do well here in New Hampshire and get as many delegates as we can," he said. "The same is true in South Carolina and in Nevada."
The New Hampshire primary is the first contest since Cruz won Iowa last Monday. While New Hampshire has fewer evangelical voters than Iowa, the Texas senator hoped for a strong showing in the Granite State.
Reminding reporters of his Iowa win during a campaign stop Tuesday, Cruz responded to attacks from Trump by saying, "Donald does not handle losing very well."
Kasich, Bush and Christie, meanwhile, spent the bulk of their campaign time in New Hampshire and saw it as a make-or-break state for their White House hopes.
Like other candidates, they hit polling places, television studios, call-in radio shows, the Internet, and social media in their last-minute appeals for votes.
Kasich, who like Christie and Bush has argued that gubernatorial experience is better preparation for the presidency, said he was "calm" as New Hampshire officials prepare to count ballots.
"I can't explain it other than we've done everything we need to do here and it's in the hands of the voters," he told MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Bush, the son and brother of previous presidents who touted his executive experience in Florida, appealed to voters via social media.
He tweeted: "Closing my time in New Hampshire the same way I began: giving it my all, speaking to every voter and being true to what I believe."
Christie, who earned positive reviews for a debate performance Saturday in which he hit Rubio for his habit of repeating the same sound bites over and over, emailed supporters a video of his remarks at a recent town hall in New Hampshire.
"I want to do as well as I possibly can," the New Jersey governor said.
Like Trump, Fiorina and Carson both campaigned in the Granite State largely against the current political establishment.
"Maybe we will wake up and recognize that it was politicians who created our problems," Carson told Fox News.
Fiorina, who protested her exclusion from Saturday's debate because of low poll numbers, told MSNBC that "it's the New Hampshire voters' job to vet candidates and winnow the field."
As is tradition, voting in New Hampshire began shortly after midnight in the tiny hamlets of Dixville Notch, Millsfield and Hart's Location: Trump, Cruz and Kasich all tied with nine votes.
Robert McKim, 92, said he decided very early on that he was going to support Trump.
"He is paving his own way ... he has a controversial nature, but he'll learn to overcome it. He's smart," McKim said outside of a polling location in Manchester. "We need someone who will speak their mind"
Contributing: Trisha Thadani
(Copyright © 2016 USA TODAY)