By CALVIN WOODWARD
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bid goodbye with their ballots Tuesday to a presidential campaign of venom, audacity and history, choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a contest that divided the nation like none other in recent times.
Clinton appeared to have more paths to the prize as she sought to become the first woman elected president; Trump appeared to tighten the race in the campaign’s final days. Both left multitudes of Americans dissatisfied with their choices.
The struggle over whom to support was voiced by two voters in Independence, Missouri, after casting their ballots.
“I had such a hard time, harder than I’ve ever had,” said Joyce Dayhill, 59, a school bus driver who “reluctantly” voted for Trump. “I just prayed on it as hard as I could and felt this was the right decision.”
Said Clinton voter Richard Clevenger, 58: “I think Trump’s not stable. But I can’t say there was really anything Hillary’s shown me that made me feel like voting for her. But Trump just doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, and he’s surrounded by the Mickey Mouse Club.”
The first states to be decided Tuesday night produced expected results: Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee went for Trump; Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and the District of Columbia for Clinton. Closer races shaped up in Florida and several other battlegrounds. Virginia defied an early call.
Control of the Senate also hung in the balance on a night that was reshaping the political calculus in Washington, D.C., a dozen governors’ offices and statehouses.
In preliminary surveys of voters leaving polling places, about 4 in 10 said the top quality they’re looking for in a candidate is change. That outranks good judgment, the right experience and caring about people like you as the preferred qualities in a president.
Just over half approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing. But a majority is still upset with the way the government is working.
CLINTON vs. TRUMP
The two New Yorkers pounded each other relentlessly, each preaching that the other is wholly unqualified, as the race tightened in the final days after a persistent if elastic lead for Clinton, the Democrat, in preference polling. Those who dreamed of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic ticket or anyone but Trump for Republicans face their time of reckoning. Will they come home to their party or just stay home?
Clinton, inheritor of Obama’s vaunted campaign apparatus and a skillful (and well-financed) organizer in her own right, fielded an impressive professional and volunteer operation. She had big names on the stage, loads of people tracking down supporters and getting them to early-voting places, committed and well-heeled interest groups behind her and lots of money for sustained advertising.
Trump’s effort paled in comparison, seeming as unpolished and improvised as the candidate himself. What he had that she didn’t were the pulse and the passion of huge crowds, day after day.
To those in Trump country, no boastful, stomach-turning video about women, no “lock-her-up” insult from the stage, no toxic tweet in the wee hours, could peel them away from the man whose crudities only made him more authentic in their eyes. To many of the Republicans who didn’t come to the rallies — and to some of the lawmakers who faced the prospect of working with him in Washington — he was a disaster, a Republican Titanic sailing alongside Clinton’s Democratic Lusitania. To the country at large, and much of the world, he polarized, repelled, entertained, shocked and fascinated.
Did that make Clinton less of a divisive figure?
Not to the Republicans who are already itching to impeach her if she wins.
WHAT TO WATCH
Virginia could be a harbinger for the night. An early win for Clinton in that state bodes well for her; a contest that drags on until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. EST could mean a good night for Trump. Exit polling suggested that Clinton was drawing strong support from women and minorities; Trump was favored by whites without a college degree, and whites with a college education were more evenly divided between the two.
By 9 p.m., polls will have closed in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
Trump and Clinton fought fiercely over Florida, a big prize. Closing the campaign, Trump also made an audacious play for Minnesota and scared Clinton in Michigan, which drew both the Democratic nominee and Obama on the campaign’s final day.
Republicans fretted about Utah, normally as GOP-friendly as can be. The state was courted by an independent who tapped anti-Trump sentiment among the state’s many Mormons.
The night’s second big mystery is which party will control the Senate, now Republican-dominated. Democrats need to gain five seats to take an outright majority. If they gain only four — and if Clinton is elected — her vice president will be able to break 50-50 Senate ties.
Indiana could give an early hint of where the night is going. Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Missouri and North Carolina could tip either way. Republican incumbents were in particular danger in Illinois and probably Wisconsin.
The math made it tough for the GOP: Republicans had to defend 24 seats compared with only 10 for the Democrats. Some were in a tough spot — risking rejection from anti-Trump Republican voters if they were too close to him and rejection from his core supporters if they pushed him away. Squirmy rhetoric ensued.
Barring a shocker, Republicans will keep control of the House. They populate that chamber in numbers not seen since the 1930s.
The breakdown is 247-188 for the GOP, with three vacancies. GOP losses of 10 to 15 seats have been predicted by people in both parties.
Notable names: Republican Liz Cheney is expected to win the Wyoming seat once held by her father, Dick Cheney. GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California, investigator of the Benghazi, Libya, episode and other Obama administration actions, could be upended.
Trump pronounced in advance that the election is rigged, in what sounded like a hedge should he lose. He warned without evidence that Clinton partisans would commit fraud and prodded his supporters to watch for misdeeds at polling stations. The prospect of vigilante election monitoring and the anger seething behind that impulse raised concerns about confrontations Tuesday, especially if the result is close.
Voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada are deciding whether to legalize recreational marijuana use; Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota are weighing whether to do so for medical marijuana. Arizona, Colorado and Maine are deciding whether to raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020; Washington state is considering $13.50. The federal minimum is $7.25. Voters in several states may tighten controls on guns and ammunition.
SOME POLITICS IS LOCAL
Of a dozen races for governor, at least seven appear competitive and most of those have Democrats on the hook. Republicans went into the campaign with 31 governorships, just one short of their historic high. And Republicans control more than two-thirds of statehouse chambers.