As the polls closed Tuesday, anxious Americans awaited an indication of who would prevail at the end of a historically bitter presidential contest — whether Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would hold on to her narrow pre-election lead or Republican Donald Trump would secure a stunning upset.
By 8 p.m. Eastern time, voting had ended in more than two dozen states that together represent 272 electoral votes.
Clinton was projected to win the District of Columbia, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont, giving her 48 electoral votes, according to the Associated Press.
Trump locked down Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, racking up 60 electoral votes.
Voting also ended in Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — pivotal states that were too close to immediately call.
Clinton is hoping to outperform President Obama in Virginia’s northern suburbs outside Washington, D.C., where a growing immigrant population has helped Democrats expand their hold. Obama won Virginia by 6.3 percent in 2008 and 3.9 percent in 2012 — the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to prevail twice in the state.
Both candidates have fiercely contested North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes, considered one of the pivotal states that Trump needs for victory. In 2008, Barack Obama narrowly edged out GOP nominee John McCain in North Carolina, but Mitt Romney wrested it back for the Republicans in the 2012 race.
Trump has also been banking on winning Ohio and its 18 electoral votes. The bellwether state has backing the losing presidential candidate only once since 1944. The GOP nominee appealed directly to the sense of economic grievance in the Buckeye State, which has been buffeted by a declining manufacturing industry.
During the day on Tuesday, there were reports of long lines at some polling places, and scattered reports of intimidation by people outside.
The loudest complaints came from Trump’s campaign.
In Nevada, it filed a lawsuit arguing that polls were improperly kept open late during early voting in Clark County, home of Las Vegas. The county said it was following the law, by allowing those who were in line at the time polls closed to continue and vote. A judge in the case seemed skeptical of the Trump campaign’s claims, and denied its request to preserve evidence in the case.
In a possibly worrisome sign for the GOP, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told NBC’s Chuck Todd about 6:15 p.m. that Trump “didn’t have the full support of the Republican infrastructure.”
Trump was monitoring the returns early Tuesday evening from his apartment in Trump Tower, according to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. The GOP nominee, he said in an interview, was “watching everything even though I’m telling him not to.”
“He’s calm. We’re all cautiously optimistic,” Giuliani said when asked to describe the mood within Trump’s home. “We think it’s going to be very, very close. We know there is a populism across the country that’s powerful and he has been lifted by it.”
Earlier Tuesday, Trump himself tweeted out what he said was a CNN headline: “Utah officials report voting machine problems across entire country.”
CNN reporters quickly replied that Trump’s message contained a key typo: the problems in Utah had been reported across a county, not the entire United States. Washington County — in the southwest corner of the state — had experienced some problems with voting machines on Tuesday morning. They used paper ballots in the meantime, and had the problem with the machines fixed by noon.
As of early evening on the East Coast, preliminary exit polls reflected one of the dominant themes of the campaign: the deep unpopularity of both candidates. Majorities of voters in early exit polling said they have an unfavorable view of Trump and Clinton, with Trump’s negatives somewhat higher.
Indeed, at the end of a bitter, sharply personal campaign, some voters were eschewing both contenders. That included former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush, who did not cast a ballot for either major-party presidential nominee this year.
“They didn’t vote for Hillary; they didn’t vote for Trump,” spokesman Freddy Ford wrote in an email to The Texas Tribune.
Preliminary exit polls indicated that turnout shares among Republicans, Democrats and independents would be comparable to 2012. Democrats had a narrow advantage at the polls in the past two Obama elections, edging Republicans by roughly six percentage points.
Leaders of both parties braced for election results that will be shaped by the nation’s changing demographics as well as an unconventional presidential race.
Democrats expressed confidence that increased voting by Hispanics as well as strong participation by African Americans, Asian Americans and young voters would provide Hillary Clinton with the margin of victory in several states. Republicans, however, said Donald Trump’s appeal among working class whites would allow him to wrest the Democratic-leaning Rust Belt away from her.
Early voting totals are up in seven of 10 key swing states, most of all in Florida, where it rose 36 percent over 2012. Much of that rise was driven by Latinos in counties such as Miami-Dade and Broward, which helps account for why Democrats have an 88,000-vote edge in the state’s early voting count.
In North Carolina, early voting increased 17 percent compared to four years ago, with an 86 percent increase among Hispanics and a 74 percent increase among Asian-Americans.
Republican National Committee officials said in a phone call with reporters Tuesday that they were not concerned that high levels of Latino turnout in Florida boded badly for their candidates, saying the party had made large gains in voter registration in the state. They noted that in Ohio, counties such as Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton that supported President Obama in 2012 saw a drop in early voting, while counties such as Warren, Miami and Greene that backed Mitt Romney saw an increase.
“We feel very confident about winning today,” said Jason Miller, Trump’s senior communications adviser.
But Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, who heads the think tank NDN, said Republicans and many political pundits have failed to grasp “how much the U.S. population is changing.”
He noted the number of eligible Hispanic voters has increased from 18 million to 27 million since 2008, and the number of millennial voters has risen from 35 million to 70 million during that period. Since those two voting blocs currently favor Democrats, Rosenberg said, the change poses “an existential threat” to Republicans “if they do not start to create a solution to these demographic trend lines.”
Longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie said in an interview he was not worried about these population shifts because the GOP could prevail if it appealed to African Americans and Hispanics on issues such as school choice, opposition to abortion and criminal justice reform.
“The Republican establishment has not been focused on issues that appeal to the minorities,” Viguerie said, adding the party would shift right after the election. “Basically, the establishment Republicans have self-destructed. They have written themselves out of leadership going forward.”
In a sign of how Democrats are courting African Americans, for example, Michelle Obama taped 15 separate radio shows Tuesday, most of which primarily reach black audiences. Two of the ones she did — the “Willie Moore Jr. Show” and “The Tom Joyner Show”–were ones that the president called into last week.
On Tuesday, Obama taped six radio interviews from the White House, talking to hosts whose listeners live in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He also walked through the White House colonnade and pointed at the cameras held by members of the White House press corps. “Go vote,” he instructed their viewers. “It’s up to you.”
As Americans cast their votes Tuesday, the nation’s demographic schisms were visible.
In Manassas, Va., where there is both a sizable immigrant population and support for Trump, James Bowers, 72, said working-class Americans like himself have seen their personal liberties erode with a Democrat in the White House.
“These eight years are the worst eight years I’ve seen in my life,” Bowers said. “It’s become a dictatorship, and if Hillary wins, she’ll continue that dictatorship.”
But 43-year-old Yesenia Luna, the daughter of an immigrant from El Salvador, said she voted for Clinton because “we have to be the difference for all the other Latinos in this country.”
Some voters said they hoped that the election could change a dynamic that has frustrated Americans from both parties.
Steve Glanz, 42, was registered Republican and had supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania’s April primary. But once inside his south Philadelphia polling place, he voted for Clinton and for the Democrats’ Senate challenger, Katie McGinty.
“I voted basically straight Democrat,” he said. “We need to get some Supreme Court justices confirmed at some point. Having the Senate belong to the same party as the president would help that. If they keep letting the justices die off, once it’s under five members, they can’t even render decisions.”
But many Republicans still expect their party to continue to probe Clinton’s use of a private email server and possible conflicts of interest raised by her role at the Clinton Foundation, which could complicate her relationship with Congress if she wins the White House.
Lori Schwabenbauer, 54, voted in Chester County, Pa., then drove into Philadelphia to celebrate her birthday. She is a Republican, and Trump and Sen. Pat Toomey received her vote, but she was expecting a Clinton win. Asked whether she would want Republicans to continue probing Clinton’s scandals if she won, Schwabenbauer gave a qualified yes.
“I don’t think anyone’s above the law,” she said, “but I don’t want her to be jailed just because I don’t like her.”
And Trump, who was joined by his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka as he voted a few blocks from Trump Tower, refused to say for certain Tuesday whether he would concede the race if TV networks and others call it for Clinton.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Trump, who was booed by some voters as he entered Manhattan’s P.S. 59. He added the early returns were “very good.”
But on Tuesday afternoon Trump called into the Fox News Channel for the second time of the day, and complained about the nation’s political and media establishment. “It’s largely a rigged system,” he said.
RNC officials noted that they had increased get-out-the-vote operation nationwide, having deployed 5,250 paid organizers and 2,350 trained fellows around the country. That represents a massive increase over the 876 staffers that the party and then-nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign jointly had in 2012.
Clinton campaign spokeswoman Lily Adams, meanwhile, emailed reporters to say that “more than 10,000 volunteers were on the doors for our first 8AM shift in battleground states with thousands more on the phones.”
By early afternoon Tuesday, voters across the country were making their choices, with long lines in many polling stations. In North Hollywood, Calif., some voters brought beach chairs to stake out a place in line before dawn. At one polling station in Detroit, people waited up to 90 minutes to reach the ballot booth.
At Stonewall Middle School in Manassas, nearly 170 people were lined up when voting began at 6 a.m.
“I’m a determined voter,” said 37-year-old Michael Barnes, an account executive for Freddie Mac who showed up at 5 a.m. and backed a straight Democratic ticket. “I’m feeling relieved that I’ve at least done my part.”
For Laurie Jarman, an office manager in Fairfax County, it was antipathy for Clinton that drove her vote.
“I don’t know that I trust him, either, but I feel that Hillary will be worse,” said Jarman, 46, who arrived at Stonewall Middle School about half-an-hour after Barnes.
After voting in Richmond, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said that if he and Clinton were “fortunate enough to win this evening,” they would work to heal the deep rifts in the country that this year’s race had exposed.
“In the tone of the things that we say, in the team that we put together, and the policies that we promote, we have to show that we want to govern for all, not just those who voted for us,” he said.
Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, cast their ballots at Douglas G. Grafflin Elementary in Chappaqua, N.Y., at 8 a.m. Just four hours earlier, they had arrived from an early-morning rally in North Carolina.
Clinton, who spent much of the rest of the day at home before heading to a Manhattan hotel to await returns, was greeted by chants of “Madam President!” as she walked outside.
“It is the most humbling feeling because I know how much responsibility goes with this and so many people are counting on the outcome of this election, what it means for our country,” she told reporters, when asked what it felt like to cast her ballot.
Asked by a reporter if she thought about her mother, Dorothy Rodham, who was born in the year before women gained the right to vote and who died in 2011, Clinton responded with a smile: “Oh, I did.”
As the possibility of Clinton’s victory drew near Tuesday, voters flocked to the Rochester, N.Y., grave site of suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who died in 1906 without getting the right to cast a vote. Mount Hope Cemetery officials extended its hours until 9 p.m. as people waited in long lines to paste “I Voted” stickers on her headstone, many of them emotional.
Anne Gearan in White Plains, N.Y.; Sean Sullivan in New York; Scott Clement, Robert Costa, Juliet Eilperin and Brian Murphy in Washington; David Weigel in Philadelphia; Laura Vozzella in Richmond; Antonio Olivo in Manassas, Va.; and Kelsey Snell in Janesville, Wis., contributed to this report.