By Tim McLaughlin
DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. (Reuters) – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s shadow over the Democratic presidential race grew a bit longer on Tuesday after his surprise write-in win in a hamlet that traditionally kicks off voting in New Hampshire’s closely watched primary election.
The billionaire businessman, who is skipping the first four state nominating contests as part of a long-game strategy to win the party’s nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election, received three of the five votes cast after the stroke of midnight by Dixville Notch residents.
Bloomberg, the 77-year-old founder of the news company that bears his name, was not on the ballot in New Hampshire, where voters are faced with a list of 33 names – including top-tier candidates, former hopefuls who dropped out of the race and also-ran competitors lacking a national profile.
The ritual in Dixville Notch, dating back six decades, gives a candidate brief bragging rights, as state law does not require polls to even open until 11 a.m.
Bloomberg’s campaign was quick to seize the moment.
“We’re not competing in NH, but Mike still wins Dixville Notch,” his campaign said in an email with a link to a media story about the results from the town in the northern White Mountains near the Canadian border.
While the number of ballots cast there is tiny in the context of the full-state Democratic primary, which drew almost 250,000 voters in 2016, the victor in Dixville Notch has gone on to win two-thirds of the contested major party primaries in the state.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are the front-runners in New Hampshire after their strong performances in the Iowa caucuses last week.
Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont in the U.S. Senate, and Buttigieg each got a vote in Dixville Notch, where ballots were cast in booths draped with American flags in the main room of the Hale House on the grounds of the Balsams Resort.
After the ballots were deposited in a wooden box with a padlock, the votes were counted and the results written on a white piece of plywood. Journalists from around the world crammed into the room to record the event.
Unlike the chaotic and delayed results in Iowa last week, the ballots were counted by hand without any glitches.
Les Otten, a registered Republican, said he voted for Bloomberg because he is a moderate and his agenda addresses climate change and the ballooning federal budget deficit.
“It’s hard to be an outlier,” Otten said. “But I did what I had to do.”
In a sign that Bloomberg’s candidacy may be making waves, Trump posted a 2015 audio clip via Twitter of Bloomberg’s use of a controversial policing strategy known as “stop and frisk” from his time as New York’s mayor between 2002 and 2013.
“WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!” Trump wrote in the since-deleted tweet.
Trump has also backed the same policing strategy.
Bloomberg apologized for his use of “stop and frisk” last November, a few days before announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In a statement on Tuesday, Bloomberg cited what he called his commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity, adding: “In contrast, President Trump inherited a country marching toward greater equality and divided us with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric.”
(Reporting by Tim McLaughlin; Additional reporting by Jason Lange; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Scott Malone, Lincoln Feast and Will Dunham)