WASHINGTON (AP) — A polarized America went to the polls Tuesday to pick its 45th president, choosing to elect either Hillary Clinton as the nation’s first female commander in chief or billionaire businessman Donald Trump after a long and rancorous campaign that upended U.S. politics.
The winner will inherit an anxious nation, angry and distrustful of leaders in Washington. She or he will preside over an economy that is improving but still leaves many behind, and a military less extended abroad than eight years ago yet grappling with new terror threats.
Clinton entered Election Day with multiple paths to victory, while Trump must prevail in most of the battle battleground states to reach 270 Electoral College votes. Control of the Senate also is at stake; Democrats need to net four seats if Clinton wins the White House. Republicans expect to maintain their House majority.
Like millions of Americans, Clinton and Trump were casting their votes Tuesday morning. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, arrived at their local polling station in Chappaqua, New York, shortly after 8 a.m. as a crowd of cheering supporters snapped photos. Trump was voting in Manhattan.
“The people of this country are incredible,” Trump said by telephone on Fox News. He said the campaign has changed him because he has seen “so many hopes and dreams that didn’t happen, that could have been helped with proper leadership.”
In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said Clinton can clinch victory if she wins any of the “checkmate” battleground states, especially North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio in that category.
Pushing for high voter turnout, Kaine called the election a “history-making race” and said “democracy always works better when people participate.”
The candidates blitzed through the roughly dozen battleground states on Monday, accompanied by their families, political allies and celebrities.
In the campaign’s final hours, Clinton was buoyed by FBI Director James Comey’s weekend announcement that he would not recommend criminal charges against her following a new email review. The inquiry had sapped Clinton’s surging momentum at a crucial moment in the race and risked damaging Democrats running in down-ballot races.
Clinton never mentioned the FBI review Monday and appeared already to be preparing for the challenges awaiting her after Tuesday. She bemoaned the caustic election season that sparked so much division, saying she’d come to “regret deeply how angry the tone of the campaign became.”
The centerpiece of Clinton’s final campaign swing was a massive rally on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, where she was joined by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
“We know enough about my opponent, we know who he is,” Clinton said as she addressed the 33,000-person crowd, her largest of the campaign. “The real question for us is what kind of country we want to be.”
Trump closed his improbable presidential bid in trademark style, flying across the country in his now-familiar private jet and headlining packed rallies filled with enthusiastic supporters. As he surveyed a crowd in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he declared: “It’s been a long journey.”
“If we don’t win, this will be the single greatest waste of time, energy and money in my life,” Trump said as he ended a marathon final day of campaigning in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “We have to win.”
Having made the new FBI review a centerpiece of his closing case to voters, Trump said Clinton was being protected by a “totally rigged system.”
“You have one magnificent chance to beat the corrupt system and deliver justice,” Trump implored his supporters. “Do not let this opportunity slip away.”
While the candidate previously has suggested he wouldn’t accept defeat, one of Trump’s sons said Tuesday that “all we’ve wanted was a fair fight.”
Asked if his father would concede, Eric Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “If he loses and it’s legit and fair, and there’s not obvious stuff out there then without question, yes.”
Almost 45 million people cast ballots in advance voting before Election Day. About half of those votes were cast under the shadow of the FBI director’s initial announcement of a new email review.
Clinton is banking on high turnout — particularly among Obama’s young, diverse coalition of voters — to carry her over the finish line. Several states with advance voting have reported record turnout, including Florida and Nevada, whose booming Hispanic populations are expected to pull for Clinton.
In Florida alone, Hispanic participation was up by more than 453,000 votes, nearly doubling the 2012 level.
In Nevada, where more than three-fourths of expected ballots have been cast, Democrats lead 42 percent to 36 percent.
Associated Press writers Vivian Salama, Bradley Klapper, Kathleen Hennessey, Hope Yen, Jonathan Lemire, Steve Peoples, Josh Lederman, Jill Colvin and Lisa Lerer contributed to this report.