After a bitter, eighteen-month-long election that exposed some of the nation’s most painful divisions and shook its democratic institutions, Americans prepared on Tuesday morning to cast their ballots for president.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will both wake up on Election Day, Nov. 8 after whirlwind tours of the nation’s battleground states from Ohio to North Carolina and Nevada to await the results. By the time they return home to sleep on Tuesday night, one of them will be the president-elect.
Until the last moment, both candidates urged their supporters to go out and vote.
“Years from today, when your kids and grandkids asked what you did in 2016 when everything was on the line, I want you to be able to say you did vote!” Clinton said in Philadelphia on Monday night. “You voted for an inclusive, big-hearted open-minded country.”
“I’m asking you to dream big. It will be the greatest vote you ever cast in your lifetimes,” Trump said in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Monday evening. “We’re going to have a great victory tomorrow, folks. They have no idea.”
Clinton’s campaign staff shipped out of their offices in Brooklyn, New York, luggage in hand as they knocked on doors in swing states at a frenetic pace. Trump crisscrossed the country at a relentless pace, holding rallies in deep-blue Michigan and planning events on Election Day. Some 42 million Americans have already voted; by Tuesday night, more people are likely to have voted than in any other election.
As voters headed to the polls, Clinton maintained a slight but firm lead over Trump and an advantage in battleground states. But the outcome of the race was far from assured and Trump has tightened the gap with Clinton in the last two weeks. Both limped into Election Day, damaged by self-inflicted wounds.
It has been a nasty election. On the morning of Nov. 8, the nation is more divided by race, gender, education class and geography than it has been in recent memory. Trust in public institutions—including the press, Congress and the vote itself—are at new lows, due in large part to the tumult in this year’s election. Clinton and Trump are among the most disliked major-party nominees in history. No matter who wins on Tuesday night, the next president will have a difficult task of healing the country.
The two candidates could not have been more different in tone and style in the final days of the campaign.
Clinton called on the country to reject Trump’s message, saying it was one of fear, division and hate. She surrounded herself with celebrities, calling on the political and musical glitterati for her last few days of campaigning including musicians Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Jay, Beyonce and Katy Perry; President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama; and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
On Monday, Clinton rallied in Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Philadelphia and Raleigh, maintaining a positive message and calling on her supporters to counter Trump’s message of “anger.”
“Anger is not a plan,” she told supporters in Cleveland, Ohio, at a rally on Sunday with basketball star LeBron James.
“I love our country and believe in our people. My faith in our future has never been stronger,” she said the next day at her marquee rally at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Monday night. “I regret deeply how angry the tone of the campaign became.”
“It’s not your fault!” an audience member shouted back.
Trump rallied in Sarasota, Fla.; Raleigh, North Carolina; Scranton, Pa.; and Manchester N.H.; and relentlessly criticized his rival’s use of a private email server, attacked the media and called for a new order in Washington, D.C. He called for an end to corruption and promised to bring jobs and wealth “back” to the United States.
Clinton “should not be allowed to run for president and she’s being protected by a rigged system,” Trump said on Monday. “Now it’s up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box tomorrow. You’ve got to get out and vote. Let’s swamp them.”
The campaigns struggled to accurately read the flurry of early votes, cast in record numbers. Of the more than 42 million early votes cast, Hispanic participation skyrocketed, while votes cast by African-Americans declined compared with 2012.
Election Day will be a difficult climb for Trump. He could win all the difficult battleground states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire and Iowa and he still would not have the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the presidency. If Clinton wins Florida or Ohio, Trump’s campaign is almost certainly over.
Clinton holds a slight but firm lead over Trump in national polls, leading her Republican opponent by about 3 percentage points, according to polling averages. But the Democratic nominee was up by as many as seven points just weeks earlier.
The 2016 campaign was remarkable for the velocity and magnitude of scandals. Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State rocked her campaign from the beginning, raising questions about transparency and her handling of classified information.
But Trump’s virulent nationalism is unprecedented among successful major party candidates. His repeated bankruptcies and his non-payment of contractors damaged his credibility as a businessman and his incendiary proposals about banning Muslims from entering the United States and deporting undocumented immigrants damaged him in the general election.
Both candidates withstood a late-breaking wave of surprise revelations. A tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault surfaced in early October, followed by about a dozen accusations from women who said he assaulted them.
The Clinton campaign dealt with a late announcement by FBI director James Comey announcing the bureau had found additional Clinton emails. (On Sunday, Comey said the FBI had found nothing in the emails to make it revisit its decision not to charge Clinton with a crime.)
All of the controversy made for a disillusioned electorate that was as often voting against the other candidate as for their own team.
Clinton has been running for president for 576 days, and Trump for 511. They both ate pork on a stick at the Iowa State Fair in the summer of 2015, braved the winter primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan, and mocked each other at a glitzy dinner in Manhattan hosted by a local cardinal.
But their campaign styles were vastly different. Clinton raised $1.3 billion by the middle of October, while Trump raised just $800 million. Clinton relied on an highly sophisticated data and field operation and many millions in campaign advertising, while Trump relied on large rallies, almost no get-out-the-vote operations and campaign aides who were often novices.
Clinton helped the Democrats raise money at record rates, relying on a new fundraising mechanism in the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which allows candidates to raise huge sums for coordinated committees. Trump took advantage of the same rules but with less success.
In the Democratic primary, Clinton faced a surprisingly tough and long-lasting primary challenge from Sanders, who rallied much of the anti-Washington sentiment on the left against her. He took liberal positions calling for free, universal healthcare and free tuition at public colleges. Sanders ultimately endorsed her after the two hashed out the outlines of the Democratic Party platform.
Trump’s with war with the leaders of his party began in the Republican primary. He has insulted them as feckless, know-nothing politicians, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (a “disgrace”), Sen. John McCain (“a hero because he was captured”), Carly Fiorina (“look at that face”), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (“low-energy”) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (“ineffective”). Then he shocked the party’s Establishment by defeating a deep Republican field.
Clinton has pitched herself as an effective manager in Washington, a “fighter” for children and families and calling herself a “progressive who likes to get things done.” She vowed at the end of her campaign to heal the country’s divides and called for a more tolerant country.
“This election, in many ways, is about what kind of future our country will have,” Clinton said at a black church in Philadelphia the Sunday before election day. “It is about choosing hope over fear, unity over division and love over hate.”
Trump aimed his message at working class voters and rusty factory towns that have fallen upon hard times, promising to bring back jobs and shatter conventions in Washington. His hardline immigration proposals spoke to a sense of cultural loss in many parts of the country.
And on the last day of his campaign, Trump began like he started: reveling in his crowds and relishing the attention. “Look at these people and look at this enthusiasm,” Trump said in Scranton. “There’s nothing like it.”