(CNSNews.com) - Early reports from the site of the nation's first primary in New Hampshire indicate that Arizona Senator John McCain has scored a surprisingly large victory over Texas Governor George Bush.
Meanwhile, early reports put Vice President Al Gore slightly ahead of former Senator Bill Bradley, but the race remains too close to call.
With fewer than 15 percent of precincts reporting, McCain has grabbed 48 percent of the vote, with Bush second at 31 percent and publisher Steve Forbes at 14 percent. Talk show host Alan Keyes is fourth with six percent, while conservative activist Gary Bauer has less than one percent.
McCain told reporters that he "never expected anything of this level. . . . It's got to be a new message, a message that it's time that the Republican party returns to its reform roots."
Bush told the Associated Press, "New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front-runners, and this year will be no exception. The road to the Republican nomination is a long road. Mine will go through all 50 states, and I intend for it to end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
The next major Republican contest is in South Carolina, where a recent Time/CNN poll shows that McCain trails Bush 52 percent to 32 percent, from a 47 point deficit in November.
Exit polls indicate that McCain has taken the majority of New Hampshire's independent voters, plus won registered Republicans there 45 to 35 percent.
Turnout in the primary was high, with a close race and good weather drawing more than half of New Hampshire's registered voters to the polls.