MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) – Solid support from registered Democrats and
women were crucial Tuesday as Sen. Hillary Clinton reversed her third-place finish in last week's Iowa caucuses to take a narrow victory over rival Barack Obama in New Hampshire's presidential primary, results from exit polls suggest.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting, CNN projected Clinton the winner of the first-in-the-nation primary with 39 percent of the vote to Obama's 36.
Self-styled independents, who made up 43 percent of all voters polled, said they voted for Obama by a margin of 43 percent to 31 percent for Clinton.
But Clinton was ahead of Obama 45 percent to 34 percent among those who said they were registered Democrats. Those voters made up a majority - 54 percent - of all those respondents.
Clinton also claimed the majority of women's votes, according to the polling. That's in contrast to last week's Iowa caucuses, in which Obama surprised observers by stealing the female vote from Clinton.
According to the exit polls, Clinton had a sizable lead over Obama among women, 47 percent to 34 percent. Analysts say that shift was crucial to the Clinton turnaround.
"If I had a single word, the word would be 'women,' " said CNN political analyst Bill Schneider. "She got the women back."
College graduates, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, opted narrowly for Clinton - 38 percent to Obama's 37 percent, according to the polling.
Those polled who called themselves very liberal or moderate went with Clinton over Obama - although by less than two percentage points in each - and those who said they are somewhat liberal were evenly split.
Pundits also were citing the role of former President Bill Clinton in helping his wife recover from what pre-primary polls were suggesting was a deficit of 9 percentage points to Obama in New Hampshire.
The former president spent Tuesday in Hanover, home to Dartmouth College - where Obama had been expected to win handily.
"They dispatched him to the area that Obama was surging," said CNN analyst Donna Brazille, who managed former Vice-President Al Gore's campaign in 2000. "I think it had the effect of tamping down Obama support and giving Senator Clinton a real reason to come back in this race."
New Hampshire was considered crucial to Clinton's campaign. If Obama had been able to sweep Iowa and New Hampshire - after months of Clinton being considered the frontrunner among Democrats - it could have given him powerful momentum going into future primaries.