WASHINGTON (AP) — The years-long, shock-a-minute quest for the presidency ended in a shockwave for the ages.
Donald Trump scored a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton, clinching an electoral vote majority in the wee hours Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Republicans kept control of the House and were on track to do so in the Senate, meaning a unified government was likely after a head-spinning turn of events that devastated the hopes of Democrats — and fed their worst fears.
This, in a nation of gaping division and a powerful sense of pessimism, laid bare in exit polls that found voters casting their ballots without much enthusiasm for their choices.
A NOVEMBER SURPRISE
Underestimated from start to finish, Trump the provocateur, political neophyte and flinger of insults scored major victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina on Tuesday, building steam against all expectations in a contest that raged across battlegrounds and turned on hair's breadth margins.
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 daunting climb to the presidency inched closer to it.
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. And he carried Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states that hadn't voted for a GOP presidential candidate since the 1980s.
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 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 in the campaign's final stage, each preaching that the other is wholly unqualified, as the race tightened in the final days after a persistent if elastic lead for Clinton in preference polling. The Obamas piled on. Many Republicans agreed with Democrats that Trump would be thumped. Some in Washington ran away from him.
The night's second big mystery was which party will 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.