Trump, Clinton charge to the finish line
The most brutal and bizarre presidential campaign in modern memory careened to a close Monday with its two main protagonists, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, exhorting their supporters to help make history.
Eight years after the country elected its first black president, Clinton was bidding to shatter what she has called the “highest and hardest” glass ceiling, by becoming the nation’s first woman president.
A victory, she said, would help bind the wounds opened by the scathing rhetoric and partisan animosities that have cut deeply throughout the contest.
“Tomorrow we face the test of our time,” she told thousands of supporters on a sun-splashed autumn day in Pittsburgh. “Will we be coming together as a nation, or splitting further apart? Will we set goals that all of us can help meet, or will we turn on each other and pit one group of Americans against each other?”
Trump, who has defied expectations throughout his unconventional campaign, sought a victory that would rank among the greatest political upsets of all time.
As an outsider, he vowed to topple the governing establishment that has embittered so many Americans and turned them in fury against Washington and its leaders.
“It’s time to reject the political and media elite that’s bled our country dry,” Trump told several thousand backers at a rally on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
The election “will decide whether we are ruled by a corrupt political class,” Trump said. “I’m not a politician. My only special interest is you.”
The election, coming after eight years of President Barack Obama in the White House, represents a turning point for the country. Voters will not only choose a new president but also decide control of Congress and, with it, the tone and attitude facing the next administration.
A gain of four seats would flip control of the Senate from Republican to Democrat, if Clinton wins and her running mate, Tim Kaine, becomes a tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate. The outcome appeared to hinge on fewer than a dozen races, including close contests in Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina and New Hampshire.
Democrats need a gain of 30 seats to take control of the House, which seems a distant prospect given district lines that favor sitting lawmakers.
Eager to protect his legacy, Obama devoted a final day to the campaign trail, traveling to Michigan and New Hampshire to rally college students before joining Clinton along with first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton at an election-eve rally in Philadelphia.
Speaking in Ann Arbor, before a sea of students at the University of Michigan, Obama urged young people to ignore the “dust cloud of nonsense” and misinformation proliferating on social media.
“I want you to tune out all the noise, and I want you just to focus,” he said. “I am asking you to trust me on this one. … I voted for Hillary Clinton, because I am absolutely confident that when she is president, this country will be in good hands.”
The choice for president is one that would have seemed improbable not long ago.
Clinton — a former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state during Obama’s first term — was always a prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, though rival Bernie Sanders, the independent Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns Monday at Dorton Arena in Raleigh, N.C. senator from Vermont, proved a far tougher primary opponent than expected.
By contrast, few — save Trump himself — took the Manhattan businessman and reality TV star seriously when he launched what seemed a vanity campaign after years of talking up a White House bid. He powered through a field of 16 rivals, virtually all of them more politically experienced than he was, shattering many of the norms of presidential campaigning along the way.
He turned a series of debates into political burlesque. He insulted whole groups of the electorate — women, Latinos, POWs — but managed to win the GOP nomination handily.
As the party’s standard-bearer, he proved no more restrained. He waged Twitter wars against his adversaries and admitted going nearly 20 years without paying federal income taxes.
He called for Clinton’s imprisonment if she is defeated and openly feuded with leaders of his own party, among them House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
Throughout, supporters delighted at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives Monday at a campaign rally in Allendale, Mich. what they considered a willingness to say what other more timorous and calculated politicians refused.
Trump staked a number of controversial positions, some of which he reiterated Monday: abrogating trade deals and defense pacts with U.S. allies, halting immigration from Muslim countries and, most famously, building a wall along the border with Mexican and forcing the Mexican government to pay for it.
His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” struck both a hopeful and pugnacious tone.
“We’re going to bring back the jobs that have been stolen from you,” he told cheering supporters in Raleigh, N.C. “We’re going to bring back the miners, and the factory workers, and the steelworkers. We’re going to put them back to work.”
But polls have consistently shown Trump with a cap of support well below 50%, and surveys suggest steep odds cobbling together the 270 electoral vote majority needed to win the White House.
Even so, Trump promised yet one more surprise.
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“Tomorrow’s going to be a very historic day. ... I think it’s going to be Brexit plus plus plus,” he said, referring to Britain’s summer vote to leave the European Union, which stunned many prognosticators. “It’ll be amazing.”
The two had a number of substantive differences. Clinton favors limited and more targeted tax cuts, legislation that would allow people to stay in the country even if they arrived illegally and using the Affordable Care Act as the foundation for expanding the availability of healthcare. Trump would seek to repeal Obamacare in its entirely.
Much of her campaign, however, focused on Trump’s persona and her assertion he lacked the temperament and personal stability to serve as president. She campaigned alongside women he insulted and invoked workers and small business owners who say Trump ripped them off.
On Monday, however, she sought to end on a somewhat higher note.
“I really do want to be the president for everybody. People who vote for me. People who vote against me,” she told reporters gathered outside her campaign plane in White Plains, N.Y., as she set out. “Because I think that these splits, these divides that have been not only exposed but exacerbated by the campaign on the other side are ones that we really do have to bring the country together.”
At ages 69 and 70, respectively, Clinton and Trump are two of the oldest candidates ever to seek the White House.
But they showed no slackening in their final-day schedules, churning across a handful of states, including several that have been among the hardest-fought in the country.