(CNN) — Sen. John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire’s Republican primary Tuesday came with the help of critics of a war he supports and independents who gave him the edge eight years ago, exit polls found.
The result highlights a remarkable rebound for McCain, whose campaign was largely left for dead over the summer.
McCain won Tuesday thanks in part to independents, late deciders and voters who put the war in Iraq at the top of their agenda, exit polls suggest.
“He is the one who ardently supports President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq,” said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
“Most Republicans support President Bush’s Iraq policy, including New Hampshire Republicans, and that was the top issue for McCain voters.”
McCain also scored high among people for whom personal qualities played a more important role than issues: 47 percent of those votes went to the senator from Arizona compared to 30 percent for closest rival Mitt Romney.
He attracted 38 percent of the independent vote, compared to 16 percent of independents who went to Romney.
Independent voters make up about 40 percent of New Hampshire’s electorate. Registered party members can vote only in their own party’s primaries, but independents can vote in either.
McCain also benefited from people who made up their minds late in the game.
About 48 percent of Republican voters in the New Hampshire primary decided who to vote for within the last week and McCain overwhelmingly bested Mitt Romney among this group, CNN polling shows — an indication Romney’s second-place showing in Iowa may have had a significant effect on New Hampshire voters.
Meanwhile, Romney lost in New Hampshire despite spending more than $8 million on campaign advertising in the state — more than double McCain’s total, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a CNN consultant.
He spent another $7 million-plus in Iowa, only to finish second in both places.
The loss in New Hampshire is even more significant for Romney because he was governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
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