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Trump shows surprising strength in Florida, other battleground states

Hours after polls began to close, the presidential race was extremely close on Tuesday evening, with Republican Donald Trump running unexpectedly close to Democrat Hillary Clinton in a series of battleground states.

LATEST: CNN projects Trump wins Ohio.

By 10 p.m. Eastern time, voting had ended in more than 40 states that together represent 450 electoral votes.

Trump was showing surprising strength in the battleground states, especially in Florida – where he held a lead of more than 150,000 votes with 95 percent of precincts reporting. That state remained too close to call.

Democratic loyalists anxiously watched as results showed Clinton trailing Trump in the Sunshine State.

“It’s scary,” said Diane Johnson, 55, who was at a Democratic victory party with party leaders in Silver Spring, Md. “We need Florida.”

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Trump had locked down Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming, racking up 136 electoral votes.

Clinton was projected to win Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, giving her 104 electoral votes, according to the Associated Press.

Voting also ended in the key swing states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. But those pivotal states were too close to immediately call.

As the night went on, a razor-thin race emerged in Florida -- a must-win state for Trump. Clinton and her allies had helped spur record turnout among Democrats and Latino voters in early voting, but Trump rapidly made up ground on Tuesday with record turnout in exurban communities and GOP-leaning counties.

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.”


Here are some other developements happening now:

Ohio may be very close. While pre-election polls have consistently shown Trump in the lead in the Buckeye State, the results of early exit polls there suggest that late deciders have leaned toward Mrs. Clinton, giving her more of a chance. Among the one in six voters who decided in the past week, Clinton holds a modest but clear advantage over Mr. Trump, and she performed best among women, younger voters, black voters and the nonreligious. Trump’s strongest support came from men, older voters, white voters and evangelicals.

Both candidates earn some expected victories. From the department of the unsurprising, more results from a slew of noncompetitive states: Clinton has won in Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware, as well as the District of Columbia. Trump has won in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Evan Bayh loses in Indiana. Another blow to Democratic Senate hopes: Bayh, a former senator and governor from Indiana, has failed in his bid to return to the chamber, losing to Todd Young, a Republican who attacked him as a Washington insider.

In Florida, Trump leads by 1 point, with 90 percent reporting.

Clinton's support among Hispanic voters would normally be enough to carry Florida, a competitive state with 29 electoral votes, but Mr. Trump's support among working-class voters could tip it in his favor. Barack Obama won Florida in 2012 by 0.9 percentage points.

Meanwhile, Trump has won three deep red states — Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia — earning a total of 24 electoral votes in his bid for the presidency. And Clinton has won Vermont’s three electoral votes, emerging victorious in the state represented in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, her top Democratic challenger in the primaries.

But a handful of key states on the East Coast remain too close to call shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m., reflecting an intense battle for votes that could lead to a long night before a White House victor is determined.

The two candidates campaigned intensely in Virginia, where it remained too early to determine a winner as polls closed across the commonwealth. And in Georgia, a Southern state where Democrats had expressed hope for a surprise victory, the race also appeared too close to call shortly after balloting ended.

A race that has been dominated by ugly, personal attacks appears to have taken a toll on voters, and the country’s mood appears darker and more pessimistic than it was four years ago, with about 60 percent of voters saying the country is seriously on the wrong track. Voters said they were eager for change in Washington, though they expressed dismay that issues had been overlooked in the brutal, long and nasty campaign.

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