Klobuchar nabs third place in New Hampshire, exclaims, 'Hello, America!'

After months of talking up a surge, the Minnesota senator now has results to back it up.

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By Jane C. Timm

Amy Klobuchar rocketed into the top tier of contenders Tuesday night, taking third in the New Hampshire primary, according to an NBC News projection.

The Minnesota senator beat out former Vice President Joe Biden and a fellow senator, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, but trailed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Pete Buttigieg. Sanders won New Hampshire's primary by a margin of about 4,000 votes, or less than 2 percentage points, over the former mayor of South Bend, according to an NBC News projection.

Klobuchar introduced herself to the nation in a televised speech earlier in the evening.

"Hello America! I'm Amy Klobuchar and I will beat Donald Trump," she told a cheering crowd. "My heart is full tonight. While there are still ballots to count, we have beaten the odds every step of the way."

The strong showing gives Klobuchar significant momentum going into the next contest, Nevada on Feb. 22, and some numbers to back up her message of electability.

Klobuchar particularly appealed to older voters, religious voters, those who are middle-of-the-road politically and voters who want the next president to unite the country, according to the NBC News Exit Poll of the state’s Democratic primary voters.

She also appears to have appealed with voters who based their decision on performances during last Friday's Democratic debate, according to the data.

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Voters 45 and older accounted for about two-thirds of Tuesday's voters, the NBC News Exit Poll found. Among those age 45 or older, Klobuchar had a slim lead over Buttigieg, 27 percent to 25 percent, according to the data. And among those who said the most recent debate was an important factor in their final decision, 30 percent chose Klobuchar.

The senator also did well with women: 67 percent of her voters were women, the most of any candidate, according to the exit poll data.

After months of touting a surge — so long that her staff has had a protracted debate on Twitter over whether to call it "Klomentum" or "Klobmentum" that stretched into Tuesday night — the senator finally has results to back it up.

"Tonight in New Hampshire, as everyone had counted us out, even a week ago — thank you pundits — I came back and we delivered,” she told her crowd on Tuesday. "I never give up, but my story is nothing compared to the resilience that I have seen all over this country."

It wasn't a smooth road to third place: she's been running for more than a year, slowly outlasting more moneyed and better-known candidates. In late December, she started to see signs of momentum, just in time for the Senate's impeachment trial to derail her grassroots campaigning ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa on Feb. 3. Returning days before the caucuses, she sprinted across the state with a schedule that necessitated multiple charter planes.

On caucus night, she turned Iowa's chaotic delay in reporting results to her advantage, giving a victory-tinged stump speech in primetime while the networks awaited word of what was going on. Amid outrage over the botched first contest, she renewed her pitch as a “steady hand in chaos."

And New Hampshire seemed keen on giving Klobuchar her shot: voters packed her events and into overflow rooms.

In Friday night's debate in Manchester, Klobuchar came out swinging, accusing Buttigieg of saying he’d rather watch cartoons than the impeachment trial.

"It's easy to go after Washington, because that's a popular thing to do," she said. "It's much harder to lead, much harder to take those difficult positions."

She quickly raised $3 million in the 48 hours after the debate, and surged to third in a Emerson College Tracking poll this weekend.

"There's no question, Amy Klobuchar is the one with the momentum here in New Hampshire," former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, a Republican, said on MSNBC Tuesday, touting the state’s open primary that allows voters of any party affiliation to cast a ballot. "And because of those undeclareds being part of the process, now a more mainstream centrist candidate like Amy Klobuchar can pull a lot of those votes on Election Day."

Another potential boost for the senator? An unusually large number of the state’s Democratic primary voters waited until the final days to settle on a candidate, too. According to the exit polls, half said they made up their minds in the last few days.

Now, Klobuchar's campaign turns its attention to Nevada, which will test candidates' support among Latino voters, a key Democratic constituency.

Her campaign told NBC News Tuesday night that it will have 50 campaign staffers on the ground in the state by the end of the week, and plans to spend at least $1 million on campaign ads in Nevada alone.

Garrett Haake and Amanda Golden contributed.