WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has reached the cusp of presidential victory, a stunner for Democrats, Republicans and all who underestimated him.
Capping a campaign of venom, audacity and history, Trump scored major victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina on Tuesday, building steam in a stunningly competitive contest with Hillary Clinton that raged across battlegrounds late into the night. Victory in Pennsylvania in the wee hours nudged him close to the prize, with Clinton having practically no path to the presidency.
Republicans kept control of the House and were on track to do so in the Senate, meaning a switch to unified government appeared in the cards.
Clinton pocketed Virginia — a squeaker like Florida — and both candidates rolled up victories in their predictable strongholds. But nothing else was predictable as the man who faced a huge climb to the presidency inched closer to it, in an election that laid bare the divisions gnawing at the nation.
Trump flipped Iowa, a state that twice voted for Democrat Barack Obama. He won Utah, a slam-dunk for most Republicans but a state where many die-hard Republicans were said to find him intolerable.
Both candidates left multitudes of Americans dissatisfied with their choices.
The struggle over whom to support was voiced by two voters in Independence, Missouri, after casting their ballots.
"I had such a hard time, harder than I've ever had," said Joyce Dayhill, 59, a school bus driver who "reluctantly" voted for Trump. "I just prayed on it as hard as I could and felt this was the right decision."
Said Clinton voter Richard Clevenger, 58: "I think Trump's not stable. But I can't say there was really anything Hillary's shown me that made me feel like voting for her. But Trump just doesn't know what the hell he's doing, and he's surrounded by the Mickey Mouse Club."
The first states to be decided Tuesday night produced expected results: Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee went for Trump; Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and the District of Columbia for Clinton.
In later waves, Trump added Texas, Kansas, Georgia and more to his column while Clinton took New York and Illinois, each reaping significant gains in the contest for 270 electoral votes but still searching for a breakout. Trump's trio of wins in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina may have provided it.
The nation's fractures were reflected in surveys of voters as they left polling stations. Women nationwide supported Clinton by a double-digit margin, while men were significantly more likely to back Trump. More than half of white voters backed the Republican, while nearly 9 in 10 blacks and two-thirds of Hispanics voted for the Democrat.
And people were markedly unhappy with the choice in front of them, the exit polls found. More than half of voters for each candidate cast their ballots with reservations about the one they voted for or because they disliked the alternative. Only 4 in 10 voters strongly favored their candidate.
In contrast, about two-thirds of voters in 2012 strongly favored the candidate they chose.
CLINTON vs. TRUMP
The two New Yorkers pounded each other relentlessly, each preaching that the other is wholly unqualified, as the race tightened in the final days after a persistent if elastic lead for Clinton, the Democrat, in preference polling. Those who dreamed of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic ticket or anyone but Trump for Republicans face their time of reckoning. Will they come home to their party or just stay home?
Clinton, inheritor of Obama's vaunted campaign apparatus and a skillful (and well-financed) organizer in her own right, fielded an impressive professional and volunteer operation. She had big names on the stage, loads of people tracking down supporters and getting them to early-voting places, committed and well-heeled interest groups behind her and lots of money for sustained advertising.
Trump's effort paled in comparison, seeming as unpolished and improvised as the candidate himself. What he had that she didn't were the pulse and the passion of huge crowds, day after day.
To those in Trump country, no boastful, stomach-turning video about women, no "lock-her-up" insult from the stage, no toxic tweet in the wee hours, could peel them away from the man whose crudities only made him more authentic in their eyes. To many of the Republicans who didn't come to the rallies — and to some of the lawmakers who faced the prospect of working with him in Washington — he was a disaster, a Republican Titanic sailing alongside Clinton's Democratic Lusitania. To the country at large, and much of the world, he polarized, repelled, entertained, shocked and fascinated.
Did that make Clinton less of a divisive figure?
Not to the Republicans who are already itching to impeach her if she wins.
The night's second big mystery was which party would control the Senate, now Republican-dominated. Democrats needed to gain five seats to take an outright majority. If they gained only four — and if Clinton were elected — her vice president would be able to break 50-50 Senate ties.
Democrats blew two of their chances, as Republican Rep. Todd Young thwarted a comeback by Evan Bayh, a former Democratic senator and governor, in Indiana; and as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida held his Florida seat against a challenge from Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy.
But Democrat Tammy Duckworth toppled Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois, and with undecided races elsewhere, Senate control remained in play for hours.
Republicans, though, held on to other key seats — Wisconsin and North Carolina — leaving Democrats with little chance for a turnover.
To no one's surprise, Republicans kept control of the House, if with thinned ranks. They came into the election populating that chamber in numbers not seen since the 1930s.
The breakdown going into Tuesday: 247-188 for the GOP, with three vacancies. They won at least 218 House seats Tuesday night.
Trump pronounced in advance that the election is rigged, in what sounded like a hedge should he lose. He warned without evidence that Clinton partisans would commit fraud and prodded his supporters to watch for misdeeds at polling stations. The prospect of vigilante election monitoring and the anger seething behind that impulse raised concerns about confrontations Tuesday, especially if the result was close.
But there were no early reports of large-scale fraud, intimidation or hacking — just long lines, an assortment of voting-machine glitches and some frayed nerves.
California, the first state to approve medical marijuana two decades ago, gave a big boost to the campaign to end the drug's national prohibition when voters passed a ballot measure to legalize the recreational use of pot. Voters in Massachusetts did the same. Arizona, Maine and Nevada also weighed whether to take that step.
Florida, one of three states deciding whether to permit marijuana for medical purposes, approved the idea. Montana voted on whether to ease restrictions on an existing medical marijuana law.
Arizona, Colorado and Maine were deciding whether to raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020; Washington state is considering $13.50. The federal minimum is $7.25. Voters in several states may tighten controls on guns and ammunition.
SOME POLITICS IS LOCAL
Of a dozen races for governor, at least seven appeared competitive and most of those had Democrats on the hook. Republicans went into the campaign with 31 governorships, just one short of their historic high. And Republicans control more than two-thirds of statehouse chambers. In a key legislative battle, Republicans won control of the Kentucky House — the lone remaining Democratic-held chamber in the South.