It's finally time to vote as Clinton, Trump make final pitch

By NICK WADHAMS | Bloomberg | Published: November 8, 2016

Preserve the U.S. political establishment or blow it up?

That's the question facing 226 million Americans eligible to vote for president Tuesday, with as many as 50 million having done so already. The winner inherits leadership of the world's largest economy and a nation perhaps irreconcilably divided over immigration, trade and its role in the world.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first female nominee of a major party in U.S. history, held a narrow lead in most pre-election polls. The 69-year-old former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state may have a solid resume, but she's been dogged by federal probes into her handling of classified e-mails, questions about her family's foundation and public doubts about her trustworthiness.

Her rival, Republican real estate magnate and reality television star Donald Trump, defeated 16 primary opponents and promises to "drain the swamp" of Washington corruption. Yet Trump, 70, has faced withering criticism for his treatment of women and denunciations of immigrants. At times he fought with fellow Republicans as much as Democrats.

The campaigns drew very different visions of the U.S.: Clinton cast herself as an optimist and unifier who will build on the economic growth of President Barack Obama's administration. Trump, meanwhile, portrayed himself as the savior of a nation hobbled by bad trade deals, declining manufacturing and beset by illegal immigration and terrorist threats. He promises to "make America great again."

Most polling stations on the U.S. east coast start opening at 7 a.m. EST. The key battleground states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida will be among the first to close. And despite the divided political climate in America, the candidates will be near each other on election eve: both campaigns plan victory parties in Manhattan.

Unlike previous years, when major news outlets held off on publishing results until polls closed, this election could see forecasts of the results coming out from startup companies while voters are still casting their ballots. Along with Florida and Pennsylvania, key states to watch include New Hampshire, Ohio and Nevada.

Clinton and Trump spent the final days of the campaign barnstorming battleground states as polls showed the race had tightened. Even so, state-by-state surveys suggest Clinton holds a narrow lead and remains favored to reach the 270 Electoral College votes she needs to claim victory.

"The choice in this election could not be clearer -- it really is between division and unity, between strong and steady leadership and a loose cannon," Clinton said at a rally Monday in Pittsburgh before flying on to Michigan. "We don't have to accept a dark and divisive vision for America. Tomorrow you can vote for a hopeful, inclusive, big-hearted America."

Trump also sought to shore up his support with a succession of rallies, repeating his promises to build a wall on the border with Mexico, slash taxes and repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obama's health-care law. To chants of "President Trump," he said he didn't see a path for Clinton to win.

"Do not let this opportunity slip away," he told supporters Monday in Sarasota, Florida. "It will be the most important vote you have ever cast because we don't win anymore. We don't win anymore. We will start winning again and winning like you have never seen before."

Later on, at a rally in Michigan that ended after 1 a.m. local time, Trump said, "Go to bed, go to bed right now, get up and vote."

This year's race has been the most volatile in decades, beset not just by gaffes on the trail or during debates, but by the specter of state-sponsored hacking and a federal probe -- opened, then closed, then opened again and closed yet again -- into Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state. After reviewing a new batch of e-mails found in an unrelated investigation, the FBI chief this weekend said the bureau stood by a July decision not to recommend charges against Clinton.

Hacking became a fixture of the race, plaguing Clinton's campaign and Democratic Party leaders for months as stolen emails and internal documents were continually published by sites such as WikiLeaks. After months of investigations, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia was behind the hacks, an accusation Moscow repeatedly rejected.

Experts said worries that hackers could alter the counting of votes are probably overblown: vote-counting machines aren't connected to the internet, though hackers could try to manipulate voter registration rolls, which are.

Throughout the campaign, the vitriol between the candidates, who have known each other for decades, was always close to the surface. Trump called his rival "Crooked Hillary," while Clinton derided her opponent as unfit for the presidency.

On the stump, Trump repeatedly raised the possibility of a "rigged" election, saying he was fighting an uphill battle against the media and the Washington political establishment. He urged his supporters to monitor polling stations for signs of fraud, singling out cities with large African-American populations like Philadelphia and St. Louis.

The Justice Department will deploy 500 personnel to polling stations in 28 states on Election Day to protect voters against discrimination and fraud. That's down from about 780 who were sent out in 2012, the result of a Supreme Court decision that limited federal oversight in some jurisdictions.

Clinton was buoyed on Friday by the latest employment data, which showed the U.S. added 161,000 jobs in October, the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent and average hourly wages rose 2.8 percent.

Trump says economic growth under Obama has been too slow. He said he'd tear up accords including the North American Free Trade Agreement and a pending deal with Asian nations, while weighing sanctions on companies that send jobs overseas.

While the national race will come down to Clinton or Trump, the winner in some states could depend on how much support turns out for third-party candidates. Former Governors Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts lead the Libertarian Party ticket, garnering 10 percent in some polls. Jill Stein had single-digit support nationally with the Green Party. And independent candidate Evan McMullin vied for leadership in some polls in Utah, where his Mormon background was a draw to voters in a state pioneered by the religion's founders.

And as much as Americans have longed for the campaign to just be over, they learned in the contested 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore that Election Day isn't necessarily the conclusion of the presidential race. Both major parties have been "lawyering up" for weeks now in case the results are close enough to contest or there are credible reports of irregularities.

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