Near the end, too close to call
The race appeared likely to be decided on a handful of counties in the economically battered Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Maryland, which has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, was placed in Clinton’s column minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Democrats also won the state’s open seat in the U.S. Senate, seven of eight House seats and the Baltimore mayoral and City Council races.
Elsewhere, Republicans had a far better night than expected, outperforming polls across the country. Democrats had hoped to clinch enough seats to recapture the majority in the Senate, but those hopes dimmed as the GOP held onto Senate seats in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana and Florida. At the very least, the race was heading to a much closer finish than the 2012 contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
As the unruly presidential contest careened from one all-consuming scandal to the next, substantive issues were effectively pushed from the table. Voters heard far more about Clinton’s private email server and Trump’s lewd remarks about women than they did about the economy, health care and plans to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
In the end, voters made their decisions based on the perceived trustworthiness of two historically unpopular candidates. Sixty percent of voters said Clinton is not honest or trustworthy, exit polls showed. Sixty-five percent felt that way about Trump.
Gone was the positive energy that propelled Obama to the White House eight years ago on a message of hope and unifying a divided nation. With the rhetoric unusually divisive and heated, the election, if anything, drove people further apart.
Clinton, who rose to national prominence as first lady to President Bill Clinton, was hoping to become the first woman to serve as commander in chief. While she enjoyed favorable approval ratings as Obama’s first secretary of state, she has long been a polarizing figure who wrestled to connect emotionally with voters.
“I know how much responsibility goes with this,” Clinton said after voting Tuesday in Chappaqua, N.Y. “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, the billionaire real estate developer and reality television star, splashed onto the national political scene five years ago as a leader of a fringe movement that questioned whether Obama was really born in the United States — a position he retreated from only this year.
At mass rallies throughout the year, he described a nation in decline, beset by bad trade deals, overrun by immigrants and threatened by terrorists. He pledged to “Make America Great Again.”
“I see so many hopes and so many dreams out there that didn’t happen, that could have happened, with leadership, with proper leadership,” Trump told Fox News before casting his ballot in Manhattan. “And people are hurt so badly.”
He flirted with presidential runs in 1988, 2004 and 2008, but those forays were considered by many to be aimed more at building his brand.
Concern about the future of the nation’s politics was a sentiment that appeared to unite Clinton and Trump supporters, regardless of the outcome.
Peter Shay, a management consultant, voted for Clinton on Tuesday at a fire Democratic supporters in Silver Spring watch as televised results of the race for president between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton trickle in from key battleground states. station in Baltimore County.
“People are talking but no one is listening,” he said. “Without respectful dialogue you can’t do anything.”
Nicholas Cross, a 22-year-old Queen Anne’s County man, voted for Trump.
He blamed at least some of the discord on the rise of social media, which played an outsized role in this election — amplifying an echo chamber that has allowed people to read the news that fits their worldview, and filter out all the rest.
“It seems like everyone’s fighting, all the time,” Cross said. “I kind of want it to be mellowed out.”
The 45th president will face daunting challenges, including a sluggish economic recovery that has left millions of Americans behind, a resurgent Russia and China that are testing U.S. supremacy abroad, and newfound threats of terror at home.
Addressing those problems in a substantive way will require bridging political divides that were laid painfully bare over the course of the campaign.
Notions of a post-partisan era next year seemed distant. A Clinton presidency would almost certainly face a Republican majority in the House that has already expressed an eagerness to ramp up investigations of her family, and oppose policies that were central to her campaign, from a higher minimum wage to an overhaul of immigration laws.
Trump, meanwhile, would face significant discord within his own political party and had an uneasy relationship with party leaders in Congress. A Trump win could entirely upend the political landscape in Washington.
Republicans stung by Romney’s loss to Obama four years ago vowed to move forward with a more inclusive message — to reach out to traditional Democratic constituencies such as African-Americans and Hispanics. But Trump sounded a populist message aimed at white men and older Americans, describing U.S. cities as war zones, promising a ban on Muslims entering the country, and pledging to build a wall along the Southern Border.
Clinton appeared to be crushing Trump among Hispanic voters and African-Americans, running only slightly behind Obama’s lead with those same constituencies in 2012. About 65 percent of Hispanic voters sided with Clinton compared with 27 percent for Trump.
But those advantages seemed to fade late Tuesday.
In many ways the election was a referendum on Obama, whose policies — pushing for gun control, for instance, and vowing to keep the controversial 2010 health care law in place — Clinton promised to continue. Trump campaigned heavily on the idea of using Supreme Court appointments to block gun restrictions, and he reprised the long-standing GOP vision of repealing Obamacare.
Trump has rewritten at least some of the chapters of the presidential campaign playbook — ratcheting up the outsider rhetoric to a place Americans had not seen in generations. Even four years ago, suggesting that Mexican immigrants were “rapists,” as Trump did when he announced his campaign, or that he could “do anything” to women because of his celebrity, would have ended a White House bid.
Trump’s supporters were willing to overlook those and other statements, in part because they believed the Republican was best positioned to shake up the Washington establishment.
Trump’s campaign drove a deep wedge into his own party, with many Republican elected officials around the country accepting his candidacy only grudgingly and others publicly opposing it. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican popular in an overwhelming Democratic state, was among those who came out early against the party’s nominee.
Former President George W. Bush made his decision clear on Election Day, selecting “none of the above” on the presidential ballot, according to a spokesman.
Observers had predicted that the far more unified Democratic Party would be more organized, and more able to drive turnout for Clinton. Whether or not that forecast would hold appeared to come down to a handful of Democratic counties in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
Despite repeated warnings from Trump that the election would be rigged in Clinton’s favor, the problems popped up at polling places Tuesday were mostly the kinds of snags that occur every four years: long lines, machines not working properly and issues with ballots or voter rolls. Many of those issues were seen in Baltimore City, as they have been in past elections.
Sylvia Stoff, a retired saleswoman from Silver Spring, was frustrated by the fact there were not more ballot scanners in her precinct. But she said the small inconvenience was a minor price to pay to possibly being a witness to history.
“Us girls have to stick together,” Stoff said when asked how she voted for president. “I saw the first black president, I may see the fist woman president and then I can kick the bucket if I want to.”
Joe Rostkowski, a retired teacher, breezed through the voting process in Montgomery County in under 10 minutes. He cast a ballot for Trump.
“I think the need for change is the biggest thing,” he said, “because the politicians in Washington are screwed up. Period.”