After an exhausting, wild, bitter, and sometimes sordid campaign, Americans finally began voting Tuesday for a new president: either the billionaire populist Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, seeking to become the first woman to win the White House.
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Early-rising voters in nine states mainly along the East Coast got first crack at a pivotal election that has a nervous world watching closely after a campaign like no other.
The name of the winner was not expected to be known before 0300 GMT. Clinton has a slim lead in the polls but no one was ruling out a Trump victory.
Democratic frontrunner Clinton and Republican maverick Trump campaigned into the early hours of election day, presenting radically different visions of the future of the world’s biggest power as they capped a grueling final day of wooing voters.
The 69-year-old former first lady, senator and secretary of state — backed by A-list musical stars and incumbent President Barack Obama — urged the country to unite and vote for “a hopeful, inclusive, big-hearted America.”
Trump meanwhile pressed his message with voters who feel left behind by globalization and social change, wrapping up with a flourish on his protectionist slogan of “America first.”
“Just imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people, under one God, saluting one American flag,” the 70-year-old former reality television star told cheering supporters.
Some 40 million Americans have already cast ballots in states that allow early voting, and opinion polls suggest Clinton has a slight edge.
In a kick-off midnight vote, the residents of tiny Dixville Notch in New Hampshire cast their traditional first-in-nation ballots with a total of eight votes — Clinton getting four and Trump, two.
The others went to a fringe candidate and Mitt Romney, the failed Republican hopeful in 2012.
A polling average by tracker site RealClearPolitics gave Clinton a 3.3-percentage point national lead, but Trump is closer or even has the advantage in several of the swing states that he must conquer to pull off an upset.
– ‘Corrupt elite’ –
No results or exit polls will be available before polling stations begin to close on the US East Coast from 7:00 pm (0000 GMT Wednesday), and it may be three or more hours after that before the direction of the race becomes clear.
And even then, questions remain. Trump has repeatedly warned that a “corrupt Washington and media elite” is seeking to rig the race and he said last month that he may not concede defeat if he thinks voting is unfair.
He has also threatened to lodge lawsuits against up to a dozen women who have come forward during the race to accuse him of sexual assault or inappropriate behavior.
Clinton has pushed a more optimistic vision, despite a wobble in the final weeks of her campaign when the FBI reopened an investigation into whether she had put US secrets at risk by using a private email server — only to close the probe again on Sunday.
In a radio interview on the last night of the campaign, she said the matter was behind her, and she courted voters at her final rallies in Philadelphia with Obama and rocker Bruce Springsteen, and in North Carolina with pop diva Lady Gaga.
“Tomorrow, we face the test of our time,” she declared in front of 40,000 people in Philadelphia, a record for her in a campaign where despite her opinion poll lead she has struggled to match her Republican opponent’s passionate and raucous crowds.
– ‘I will fight for you’ –
“There is a clear choice in this election. A choice between division or unity, an economy that works for everyone, or only for those at the top; between strong, steady leadership, or a loose cannon who could put everything at risk.”
At the same time, Trump, who hijacked his conservative party and turned it into a vehicle for populist bombast, concluded a last-gasp tour of swing states by painting his rival as doomed to defeat and the corrupt creature of a discredited elite.
“Do you want America to be ruled by the corrupt political class, or do you want America to be ruled, again, by the people?” he demanded at a rally in New Hampshire, a state Obama won in 2012 that Trump hopes to flip into his column.
Promising to end “years of betrayal,” tear up free trade deals, seal the border, halt the drug trade and subject Syrian refugees to “extreme vetting”, Trump told his supporters: “I am with you and I will fight for you and we will win.”
Voters on Tuesday are also electing candidates for 34 seats in the 100-member Senate and the entire 435-member House of Representatives, as well as deciding on state ballot initiatives around the country.
Trump’s campaign spooked world markets seeking stability after the recent global slowdown.
Last week, US stocks as measured by the S&P 500 index fell for nine straight days for the first time since 1980, only to recover a little when the FBI confirmed Clinton would not face prosecution over her emails.
Asian markets were up slightly on Tuesday as the world remained on tenterhooks for the result.
Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson send anti-trans signals to Trump’s evangelical base
While Trump grabs headlines, his Cabinet members quietly use transphobia to shore up white evangelical support
The white evangelical vote is almost certainly a lock for Donald Trump in 2020, but it appears the president is taking no chances of losing this critical voting block. One major part of that strategy appears to be quietly deploying his Cabinet members, especially those associated with the Christian right, to generate stories highlighting the Trump administration's overt bigotry toward trans people, and its eagerness to deprive trans Americans of basic rights.
Just this week, both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson snagged coverage by making community visits that were ostensibly for noble purposes, but were clearly meant to signal to Christian right voters their hostility to trans rights.
Intelligence official directly contradicts Trump administration’s excuses for suppressing whistleblower
A top official in the intelligence community has disputed the factual basis for the Trump administration’s suppression of a whistleblower complaint believed to regard the potential misconduct of the president himself, a new letter released Thursday revealed.
The letter was made public by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). He is locked into a fierce and potentially explosive dispute with an array of forces within the administration to obtain the complaint, which was made through proper channels by an intelligence official last month to the community’s inspector general. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was “credible” and “urgent,” and subsequent reporting from the Washington Post found that it concerns a “promise” made by Trump in communication with a foreign leader.
Longtime GOP strategist explains why his party is getting crushed in the war of ideas
Republican strategist Stuart Stevens on Wednesday warned the GOP that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) might not be a pushover candidate against President Donald Trump in 2020.
Writing on Twitter, Stevens admitted that he had "no idea" if Warren would beat Trump next year, but he did say that "Trump and supporters are destroying [the] credibility of any center-right argument" thanks to Trump's "corrupt and unstable" governance.
When one of Stevens' followers said that Warren would not be able to fulfill her promises just by taxing the wealthy, he countered that this idea is still more popular than anything Republicans are championing.