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McCain claims victory for Republicans

John McCain, the dogged Arizona Senator who only weeks ago was considered a no-hope in the presidential contests, pulled off a stunning win among Republicans in New Hampshire, soundly defeating his main rival, Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighbouring New Hampshire.

The upset victory for Mr McCain, who is 71 years old, elevates him to pole position among Republican rivals for the party nomination. By contrast, it represents a one-two punch for Mr Romney who had been expected to prevail in Iowa last week and New Hampshire last night.

The battle among Republicans now shift to Michigan, which holds primary voting next Tuesday. Michigan is the state where Mr Romney's father was once governor and he should be placed to fare well there. Yet, he faces a dramatically improved challenge from Mr McCain.

A Vietnam War hero and prisoner, Mr McCain won New Hampshire in 2000 beating out his main foe in that year, George Bush. He faltered soon afterwards, however, the victim of ferociously negative advertising from the Bush campaign just days later in South Carolina.

How far Mr McCain can travel down the primary process this time remains unclear. After almost fading out totally in the summer, he remains short of cash and short on ground-troops as the primary schedule begins to accelerate.

Indeed, the Republican race-track looks crowded and thoroughly confused. Mike Huckabee fared poorly last night after his surprising win in Iowa last week, but is polling to do well in South Carolina on 19 January. Meanwhile, there is still the spectre of Rudy Giuliani, who also failed to catch fire in the Granite State but is counting on a victory in Florida on 29 January.

Mr McCain has been seeking to revive his love-affair with New Hampshire but until only a few days ago it seemed victory for him was a long short. Even a second place showing in the state would have been good for him. To have won handily now gives him a major boost. It may also bring him a much needed infusion of cash from Republican donors.