Republican Donald Trump appeared on the verge of claiming the U.S. presidency over Democrat Hillary Clinton after sweeping the swing states of Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida and delivering Election Night surprises in a number of other states.
But razor-thin margins in states like Pennsylvania kept Trump below the threshold of 270 electoral votes votes needed to win, pushing the outcome into Wednesday and possibly beyond.
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told supporters to go home about 2 a.m. and said there would be no concession from the former secretary of state, who is vying to be the first woman elected president.
The election marked a breath-taking finish to a brutal contest, but several states thought to be tightly contested, including Ohio, offered little drama. Trump won Ohio with relative ease, picking up the state’s 18 electoral votes and was even narrowly winning in Montgomery County, which hasn’t gone for a Republican for president since 1988.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Trump had 52 percent of the vote in Ohio compared to 43 percent for Clinton.
Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns focused much of their efforts on Ohio, Florida and North Carolina in the final weeks, sending in A list surrogates and holding large rallies. Trump won all three states and none were nail-biters.
No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio and the last man to do it was John F. Kennedy in 1960. Ohio voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
Trump won Ohio in part by emphasizing trade, a message that resounded in corners of the state that have lost manufacturing jobs. In the traditionally blue Mahoning County, home to Youngstown, he lost to Clinton by just three percentage points. By contrast, Obama won that county by 27.5 points in 2012 and 26 points in 2008.
“I think it was the trade issue, particularly in areas like Youngstown and areas hard hit by the jobless rate and losing good-paying union jobs,” said Mary Anne Sharkey, a political consultant to both Democrats and Republicans. “I think some people still associate the Clintons, particularly Bill Clinton, with NAFTA. She did not try to distance herself from that issue.”
“Plus, she is a very divisive personality who has never been all that well loved in politics,” Sharkey said.
Trump pulled off the big win in Ohio even while feuding with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and leaders of the Ohio GOP and losing support from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
The closeness of the national race could throw an already deeply divided America into chaos. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by some 700 points as Trump surged in the polls.
University of Dayton political scientist Christopher Devine said given talk of a rigged system and voter fraud in recent weeks, “I think people will be more ready to seize upon something questionable about the counting of votes.”
Americans have been front-seat passengers on the white-knuckled, high-speed chase for the White House for more than a year. Even last summer, six in 10 Americans said they were fatigued by the amount of election coverage, according to Pew Research Center. Large swaths of the American electorate deeply dislike Clinton and Trump.
Add to that an incredibly nasty climate — with some Trump voters calling for Clinton to be “locked up” — and an undecided race could divide an already deeply polarized country.
The 2016 race is historic and toxic. Clinton, a political insider with decades of experience and baggage, was running to be the first female president in America’s 240 year history, running more than 95 years after women won the right to vote. But that history-in-the-making has been overshadowed by federal investigations into her handling of emails, disclosures from WikiLeaks and shadowy hackers who gained access to private emails and a concern over the nexus of Clinton’s power as Secretary of State and the Clinton Foundation.
On the other side of the race is Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon and reality TV show host with a penchant for bombast and late-night, inflammatory tweeting.
Before his meteoric rise in American politics, Trump, who was best known for scowling ‘You’re fired!’ at TV show contestants, led the so-called birther movement that questioned President Obama’s citizenship. Still, Trump beat out more than a dozen seasoned Republicans — including Kasich — to become the GOP standard bearer.
During the course of the campaign, Trump said and did things that would be knock-out punches for any other candidate. He called his opponent a devil, monster, crooked and nasty — among other names — picked public fights with those who questioned him, including Pope Francis, a Gold Star family and a former Miss Universe. His antics and statements led all living former presidents and GOP nominees to withhold or revoke support. Repeatedly, Trump went off message, missed chances to effectively capitalize on Clinton’s stumbles, and launched late night attacks via Twitter.
Bombshells landed center stage in front of him — a massive tax write off that allowed him to legally sidestep paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years, a hot mic videotape that caught him making vulgar and predatory comments about women – and still he carried on.
Trump tapped into voter anger, promised to bring law and order to the country, appealed to American workers left behind by free trade agreements, and pounded hard on the wedge issue of 2016: immigration.
His candidacy appealed in particular to voters who were furious with the status quo. That frustration, which also led to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unexpectedly strong showing in the Democratic primary, “disadvantaged virtually every other candidate in the race for the Republican nomination,” said Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.
In facing Clinton, he said, Trump was able to attack “the epitome of the establishment.”
“Trump got amazing margins in a lot of white, working-class counties,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “That more than made up for the urban vote. Ohio really swung hard to Trump tonight – we’ll have to see where it all ends up but the state should be significantly more Republican than the nation this year, perhaps more than it has been in some time.”
Barry Bennett, a former Trump advisor who has worked for Sen. Rob Portman, said Trump “committed at least 30 gaffes that were all believed to be lethal. But the American public is so angry at Washington that they’re interested in someone who knows how to drive a bulldozer.”
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