Near the end, too close to call

Baltimore Sun - - ELEC­TION 2016 - Bal­ti­more Sun re­porters Liz Bowie and Pamela Wood and the As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. john.fritze@balt­ twit­

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.”


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