Either Hillary Clinton will be the first woman to become president in the nation’s 240-year history or Donald Trump will score an unprecedented upset for outsiders and repudiate the Washington establishment in ways not seen in generations.
Both candidates argue the election presents an unusually significant choice for a divided nation. Democrats warn that Trump, with his rhetoric on race, gender and immigration, would represent a rejection of core American values. Trump insists his campaign represents America’s last chance to drive out a corrupt political establishment that has turned its back on hard-working Americans.
Polls are beginning to close on the East Coast as the candidates collected their first wins of the night. CNN projects, based on exit polls, Trump will win Kentucky and Indiana and Clinton will win Vermont.
New York is the center of the political universe this Election Day. This is the first campaign since 1944 in which both candidates are from the Empire State. And their victory parties are being held a mile and a half apart in Manhattan.
Early exit polls show that a majority of voters — 54% — approve of President Barack Obama, but only 4 in 10 said they would be optimistic or excited about a Trump or Clinton presidency. And 4 in 10 said their top priority was a candidate who would bring needed change. But a similar share said they were voting on experience or judgment, sentiments that did not seem to offer an edge to either candidate.
Route to 270
Clinton appears to have the easier route through the electoral map to the 270 votes needed to win the presidency. She is counting on minority voters and highly-educated white women to take her to victory. Trump is hoping a huge turnout from his less well-educated, less diverse coalition will defy pollsters who give Clinton a small but steady lead nationally and are projecting tight races in some swing states.
At her last rally, past midnight in North Carolina, Clinton capped her campaign with the words “Love trumps hate.”
Trump took to Fox News on Tuesday morning to declare his confidence in the outcome.
“We’re going to win a lot of states. Who knows what happens, ultimately, but we’re going to win,” he said. The GOP nominee also took aim at polls showing that Clinton has the advantage.
“I think a lot of polls are purposely wrong. The media is extremely dishonest and I think a lot of polls are phony. I don’t think they interview people. I think they put out phony numbers,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.”
Trump also appeared to be laying the groundwork for a legal challenge in the event of a close race. In Nevada, his campaign sued Clark County officials over an alleged decision to keep early voting polling stations open two extra hours. The lawsuit targets the greater Las Vegas area, which has large minority precincts.
A judge later denied Trump’s request.
The GOP nominee sent conflicting signals about his willingness to accept the result if he loses, telling News Radio 610 WTVN in Ohio that he would see what happens.
“You hear so many horrible stories and you see so many things that are wrong. So we’ll take a look. Certainly, I love this country and I believe in the system, you understand that,” he said.
Frenzied final day
Twenty-three months after Jeb Bush fired the unofficial starting gun on the campaign, the last two candidates standing endured a frenzied final travel schedule on Monday.
Clinton was joined by high-wattage celebrity surrogates, including Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga.
“Years from today, when your kids and grandkids ask what you did in 2016, when everything was on the line, I want you to be able to say that you did vote,” Clinton told a crowd of thousands in Philadelphia. “You voted for an inclusive, big-hearted, open minded country. (A) future that will make sure that we all keep moving together. Because I do believe we are stronger together. And you voted for an America where we build bridges, not walls.”
In Scranton, Pennsylvania, Trump called Clinton a “failure.”
“Hillary is the face of failure,” he said. “She’s the face of failed foreign policy. Look at what she’s done with emails, look at the mess. Look at the mess and the corruption.”
The Republican nominee cast his ballot near Trump Tower in New York City Tuesday and was met with cheers and boos outside the polling station. Clinton voted at a school near her home in Chappaqua, New York, with former President Bill Clinton.
“It is the most humbling feeling … because I know how much responsibility goes with this and so many people are counting on the outcome of this election, what it means for our country and (I) will do the very best if I am fortunate enough to win today,” Clinton told CNN’s Dan Merica.
Donald Trump reflects on his bid: ‘It’s been some campaign’
CNN’s most recent electoral map shows Clinton projected to win 268 electoral votes from states that are solidly blue or leaning in her direction. Trump has 204 votes from states that are solidly in his column or leaning that way. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the White House.
The Democratic nominee must hang onto traditionally Democratic states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, exploit her advantage among minorities and highly educated voters to win states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada, and pick off several swing states where she is locked in a tough race with Trump.
Trump likely will need North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, all of which are races recent polls showed as within the margin of error. And then he must make an almost perfect run through battleground states such as New Hampshire and Iowa. Even then, he will likely have to find a way to snatch away a state from Clinton’s firewall. If he fails to take North Carolina or Florida, he will need Rust Belt wins from Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Battle for Congress
The presidential election is not the only close race that will wrap up on Tuesday. Democrats are battling to grab back the Senate from Republicans. The GOP, meanwhile, is expected to hold onto the House of Representatives, but likely with a reduced majority.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday that he would run again for the top job, despite reports in recent days that he may opt out or that more radical members of his restive caucus could try to oust him, after deeming him insufficiently supportive of Trump.
“I am going to stay — you know why? Because I moved our majority to put out a very specific and coherent agenda. We have it, we’re running on it,” Ryan said on the Charlie Sykes radio show.
Asked who would win the presidential race, Ryan said he genuinely did not know, because “it is such a weird election, such a volatile election.”