DONALD Trump stormed to a stronger-than-expected start on Tuesday evening as he and Hillary Clinton were locked in a see-saw battle in Florida and North Carolina, with the most crucial battleground states across the country all too close to call.
America remained on edge as the first results rolled in Tuesday, as there was no clear winner in Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Trump and Clinton only scored early victories in predictable places — Trump in conservative corners, Clinton in liberal bastions.
Both sides appeared to be driving record-setting turnout.
In Florida, Clinton had tallied more than 614,000 votes in the Democratic stronghold of Florida’s Miami-Dade County — a whopping 10 percent more than President Barack Obama did four years ago. But Trump was pushing his margins in other regions of the state, and held a lead shortly after 9 p.m.
Clinton notched easy wins in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey; Trump won handily in places like Oklahoma, West Virginia, Indiana and Texas.
One thing was clear from early exit polls — the divisive contest, pitting the former secretary of state and first lady against the billionaire businessman, had left many Americans deeply unsatisfied with their choice.
Those exit polls offered some warning signs for Trump’s supporters, none more so than the fact that more than three in five of those interviewed viewed him unfavorably. Clinton fared slightly better, with a disapproval rating of 54 percent.
The exit poll, conducted by a consortium of news organizations, also showed Clinton and Trump virtually tied among white voters with a college degree — a demographic that has gone Republican for a half-century. But Trump led Clinton 65 percent to 29 percent among whites without college degrees — a bigger margin that Mitt Romney carried that group four years ago.
In the Senate, Republicans scored three big victories. Sen. Marco Rubio won reelection in Florida and Sen. Rob Portman coasted in Ohio. In Indiana, Rep. Todd Young successfully defended a Senate seat. The only early loss was in Illinois, where Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth knocked off the incumbent.
Heading into the election, Clinton led in most national polls, and in enough battleground states to reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
But Trump, buoyed by his energetic crowds in the closing days, dismissed those findings. “I think a lot of the polls are phony,” Trump said Tuesday. Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, said he had been “getting oxygen from these unbelievable crowds” on MSNBC.
As the polls began closing, there are two key tranches of states that both Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters and Trump Tower were monitoring most closely on Tuesday night.
The first — Ohio, Florida and North Carolina — are worth a combined 62 electoral votes and all three are within the margin of error in polls. Trump is widely believed to need a clean sweep of all three to have a chance of victory, with Ohio seen as the likeliest to land in the GOP column.
Polls in all three have closed, and Clinton took an early lead in Florida.
The second set of Democratic-leaning states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin and Minnesota — Trump would additionally need to pick off some combination of in order to win. (Trump is also viewed as the narrow frontrunner in Iowa, a state which voted twice for President Barack Obama.)
“Our gateway is North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, and then we start looking at their map and start peeling away,” said David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, on MSNBC on Tuesday.
Michigan, in particular, emerged as a surprise late battleground, as neither campaign invested heavily in ads there. But Clinton, Trump, Obama, Mike Pence and others all blitzed the state in the final days. Trump has not led there in a poll all year but his team has signaled bullishness about his improving standing in the waning days.