President Barack Obama won New Hampshire decisively on Tuesday with a strong showing in the state's largest communities.
Voters waited in long lines, negotiated traffic jams and registered at the polls by the thousands to determine who would get the state's all-important four electoral votes. It was not the photo finish many had expected.
Obama led his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 52 to 47 percent, with 71 percent of the expected vote counted. ABC News declared Obama the New Hampshire winner at 9 p.m.
Obama won big in several cities, taking Berlin, 69-30 percent; Claremont, 60-38 percent; Concord 65-33 percent, Dover 61-36 percent; Keene, 69-28 percent; Lebanon, 69-29 percent; Nashua, 54-44 percent; Portsmouth, 69-30 percent; Rochester, 55-42 percent; and Somersworth, 57-41 percent.
He was leading in Manchester, 52-46 percent, with 42 percent of the precincts reporting.
Although Romney did well in many of the smaller communities, it wasn't enough for him to break the lead Obama has held in New Hampshire polling for months.
His big wins were in smaller communities like Auburn, 61-37 percent; Barnstead, 52-46 percent; Deerfield, 55-42 percent; and Hampton Falls, 61-36 percent.
Romney won some larger communities, but by smaller margins, taking Goffstown, 52-46 percent, Loudon, 51-47 percent and Seabrook, 51-47 percent.
The community that mostly closely resembled what many political observers thought would be more common was Stratham, which split 49-49 percent, 2,411 votes for Obama to 2,395 for Romney.
"It's great; it's unbelievable," said Kathy Sullivan, former chair of the state Democratic Party, now a member of the Democratic National Committee.
She attributed Obama's victory in New Hampshire to a variety of factors, including the successful gubernatorial campaign of former state Sen. Maggie Hassan and the fact that the party was unified after a tough primary with a strong organization in the field.
Jackie Cilley, Hassan's opponent in the primary, became a co-chair of the Hassan campaign. "The Democrats were extremely united in New Hampshire, so that was a huge help," she said.
Ultimately, she said, voters in New Hampshire thought Obama deserved a second term. "I think that the voters recognized that President Obama has been an effective president and that he deserves another four years to finish the job he started," she said.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who campaigned aggressively for Obama in the state, said she was particularly impressed by the turnout in Durham, Keene and the other college towns.
"I was in Durham earlier today, and there were hundreds of people waiting in line to register, most of them students, and I think that was a turnout for Barack Obama," she said.
Tom Rath, a senior adviser for the Romney campaign and former New Hampshire attorney general, said the GOP camp was buoyed by the large turnout, despite the outcome.
"We thought New Hampshire was going to be a very close race," he said.
New Hampshire has always garnered national attention for casting the first votes in the country at Dixville Notch, just after midnight on Election Day. A 5-5 split in the tiny North Country town prompted commentary about the extent to which New Hampshire has become a microcosm for the nation - neither deep blue nor bright red.
There was more consensus in nearby Hart's Location, where Obama got 23 votes to Romney's nine. The final vote wasn't as close as the Dixville Notch results, nor was it the landslide of Hart's Location.
The significance of New Hampshire in the presidential voting was evident in the multiple visits to the state in the months leading up to the election by both candidates and their high-profile surrogates. Obama campaigned in the state seven times this year, while Romney was here 10 times since winning the first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Jan. 10, including a Monday night event that filled the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
The Republican presidential nominee was introduced by musician Kid Rock, who entertained the packed house with a brief set and ended with his song "Born Free," which was adopted as the Romney campaign's anthem.
The outcome defied polls from seven survey groups in the week before the election, all of which showed a statistical dead heat in New Hampshire, with an average of 49.9 percent for Obama and 47.9 percent for Romney.
Using a poll-tracking model that is updated whenever a new poll is released, the Huffington Post showed Obama at 49.3 percent and Romney at 46.8 percent on Nov. 4 - the closest poll to the actual outcome.
The final result of 52 percent for Obama and 47 percent for Romney suggests that most of the late undecided voters went for Obama.
New Hampshire has been a swing state since 1980. In the last eight elections, the state has voted for the Republican candidate four times (1980, 1984, 1988 and 2000) and the Democratic candidate four times (1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008). Before 1980, the state had been reliably Republican for decades.