By Amanda Becker and Emily Stephenson
MANCHESTER, N.H./COLUMBIA, S.C. (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton made the prospect of her being elected the first woman U.S. president a centerpiece of her campaign, then lost a critical nominating contest to a 74-year-old man in part because women preferred him.
NBC News exit polls showed Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, won 44 percent of the women's vote in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary to 55 percent for her Democratic Party rival, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Young women contributed significantly to Clinton's loss, and the candidate acknowledged that she struggled with young voters.
“I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” Clinton said during a concession speech. “Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.”
With women over 45, Clinton prevailed with 56 percent of the vote, ABC News exit polls found, but Sanders won 69 percent among women under 45. Among women under 30, Sanders won a staggering 82 percent.
Unlike Barack Obama, who played down his African-American roots when elected the first black president eight years ago, in this election cycle Clinton, 68, has emphasized the breakthrough a Nov. 8 victory would represent for women.
At nearly every campaign stop in New Hampshire, Clinton or a supporter emphasized the role she could play as the first woman in the White House while Sanders galvanized young people with his promise to fix an economy he said was rigged in favor of the wealthy.
Clinton said she was trying to break the “hardest, highest glass ceiling.” She campaigned alongside four women U.S. senators, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan and Lilly Ledbetter, the woman for whom an equal-pay law is named.
SUPPORTERS' REMARKS BACKFIRE
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reprised her line that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” while introducing Clinton at a rally on Saturday.
Clinton told a young woman the same day that she has to walk a “narrower path” because she has “got to be aware of the fact that I’m trying to be the first woman president of the United States of America, and there has never been one before, and so people don’t have, you know, an image.”
The remarks by Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state, and others by feminist icon Gloria Steinem were assailed as disparaging by young women supporters of Sanders. Steinem had said young women were drawn to Sanders because that was where the boys were.
With the next nominating contests in Nevada and South Carolina, Clinton will seek to lift her standing among women.
Katherine Wilbur, 20, a geography major at the University of South Carolina from Hopkins, South Carolina, said she had yet to decide on a candidate or party.
“I think that’s ridiculous. It’s 2016,” Wilbur said of the suggestion that women should vote for other women. “It’s not important to me."
Paige Lambert, 23, who volunteered for the Sanders campaign in New Hampshire, said she thought the remarks by Steinem and Albright were sexist.
"I don't think I should have to vote for a woman because I am a woman," Lambert said. "If I would have thought she'd do better, I would have voted for her. I'm not just going to vote for her because she's a woman."
Amanda Coleman, 26, of Manchester, New Hampshire, said she did not think candidates should be elected based on gender, but on their stances on the issues.
(Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Writing by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Caren Bohan and Howard Goller)