The United States’ contest for a new leader, long, rancorous and unpredictable to the end, entered its last hours Tuesday with Hillary Clinton hoping to become the first woman elected president and billionaire businessman Donald Trump looking to crown his improbable campaign in victory.
Clinton appeared to have multiple paths to triumph. Trump needed to prevail in most of the closely fought battleground states to secure an upset.
The winner will inherit a nation angry and distrustful of leaders in Washington. She or he will preside over an improving economy that is nevertheless leaving many behind and a military battling new terror threats. And whoever emerges as the country’s 45th president will have to confront head-on a divisiveness that was painfully evident over a two-year race replete with racially loaded rhetoric and unrelenting negativity.
“I know how much responsibility goes with this,” Clinton said after voting Tuesday morning at her local polling station in Chappaqua, New York, with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at her side. “So many people are counting on the outcome of this election, what it means for our country, and I will do the very best I can if I’m fortunate enough to win today.”
Trump said he wanted to tap the United States’ unrealized potential.
“I see so many hopes and so many dreams out there that didn’t happen, that could have happened, with leadership, with proper leadership,” he said by telephone on Fox News before casting his own ballot in Manhattan. “And people are hurt so badly.”
Trump, who caused a major stir during the presidential debates by refusing to say he would accept the election result, made a similar comment Tuesday, also on Fox. He said, “We’re going to see how things play out.”
That was shortly after his campaign filed a complaint in Nevada over reports that people were allowed to join a polling place line during the early voting period after a closing deadline.
In the early going on Tuesday, most problems at polling places appeared to be routine.
Control of the Senate also was at stake, with Democrats needing to net four seats if Clinton wins the White House. Republicans expected to maintain their House majority.
Both candidates spent part of Election Day giving radio interview in states still up for grabs, after blitzing through the dozen or so remaining battlegrounds a day earlier.
Even before Tuesday, almost 45 million people had cast ballots in advance for president. Many expressed relief the end was in sight after an election season in which personal attacks often drowned out the issues.
“I’m tired of the mudslinging,” said Laura Schmitt, a 54-year-old Republican from Woodbury, Minnesota, who was voting for Trump. Emetric Whittington, a 51-year-old Democratic mother of three on Chicago’s violence-plagued South Side, agreed: “I can’t wait for this night to be over.”
Clinton has denounced Trump for calling some Mexican immigrants “rapists” and promoting a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and for a long line of remarks about women that culminated in an audio in which he bragged about grabbing their genitals. Trump repeatedly called his opponent “Crooked Hillary” for her use of a private email server as secretary of state and for her complicated ties to the family’s Clinton Foundation.
Clinton voters generally described their candidate as better qualified. Trump’s said he would break with politics as usual. But some crossed party lines for other reasons.
“I can’t vote for somebody who’s so morally reprehensible,” said Lisa Moore, a 48-year-old Republican from Glen Rock, New Jersey, who picked Clinton. Democrat Charles Ikner of Cross Lanes, West Virginia, opted for Trump, saying it was time for “fresh blood” in the White House.
In the last days, Clinton was buoyed by FBI Director James Comey’s weekend declaration that he wouldn’t recommend criminal charges against her following a new email review. Comey announced the inquiry late last month, diminishing Clinton’s surging momentum and threatening Democrats in Senate and House races.
Democrats were taking nothing for granted.
“I hope everybody’s voted early. If not, get out there,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
Echoing the call for high voter turnout, running mate Tim Kaine said Clinton can clinch victory if she wins any of the “checkmate” states, listing North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.
Clinton is banking on turnout from Obama’s young, diverse coalition of voters. Several states with advance voting are reporting record turnout, including Florida and Nevada, whose booming Hispanic populations are expected to pull for Clinton.
In Florida alone, Hispanic participation was up by more than 453,000 votes, nearly doubling the 2012 level.
In Nevada, where more than three-fourths of expected ballots have been cast, Democrats led 42 percent to 36 percent.