NEW YORK (AP) — His path to the White House narrow, Donald Trump was locked in tight races across a handful of key battleground states with polls closing across the nation.
No state looms larger for the Republican nominee than Florida, a state his advisers have repeatedly described as a must win. The stakes are also high in North Carolina and Ohio.
Stronger-than-expected early returns fueled excitement inside a Manhattan hotel where Trump was expected to appear once a winner was announced. His supporters chanted “USA!” as the New York billionaire gathered privately with his family inside Trump Tower. Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott, who leads Trump’s National Diversity Coalition, said presidential hopeful was loose and relaxed.
“Everyone was nervous but Trump,” Scott said.
Earlier in the day, Trump refused to say whether he would accept the election results, injecting new drama into the final day of a turbulent election season. He also continued to raise doubts about the integrity of the election system, warning of possible voter fraud as his campaign sought an investigation into early voting hours in battleground Nevada.
While familiar charges from an unorthodox candidate, the Election Day statements challenged bedrock principles of American democracy: fair and free elections and the clean transfer of power. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in America.
“We’re going to see how things play out,” Trump said on Fox News when asked if he would accept the election results. “I want to see everything honest.”
The comments come as Trump eyes a challenging path to the 270 electoral needed for victory, although both sides paint the picture of a very close election that will likely come down to a handful of swing states.
As the nation’s first polls closed, Trump scored victories in reliably Republican states including Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina. Clinton won deep-blue states Vermont, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, among them.
All of the nation’s premiere swing states were too close to call.
Trump voted Tuesday morning at a public school on Manhattan’s East Side, joined by his wife, Melania, his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his granddaughter Arabella. He was booed loudly by onlookers gathered on the sidewalks outside of the school, which had been sealed off with police barricades.
His warnings of a “rigged election” have become central argument from an outsider candidate who has repeatedly challenged the norms of presidential politics.
Trump’s outsider status has both hurt and helped him over the last year.
His political inexperience allowed him to cast himself as a change agent just as frustrated voters in both parties seemed hungry for change. The message was particularly effective against Clinton, a fixture in public service over the last three decades.
Yet Trump’s inexperience also fueled a series of self-created controversies, whether a days-long public feud with the parents of a slain soldier or late-night tweet storm citing a beauty queen’s “sex tape.” He insulted opponents from both parties in unusually personal terms, lowering the bar for political discourse in a way never seen before on the national stage.
Ever the showman, his strategy relied almost exclusively on massive rallies to connect with voters, ignoring the less-glamorous grunt work that typically fuels successful campaigns.
Polls suggested he was the least popular presidential nominee in the modern era.
“It was really hard to vote for Donald Trump,” said Debra Sindler of Savannah, Georgia.
The 60-year-old real estate agent said she continued to wrestle with even as she walked to the polls.
Peoples reported from Washington. AP writer Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.
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