PHILADELPHIA — It’s all over but the voting.
The campaign that began nearly 600 days ago, when Sen. Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to throw his hat into the presidential ring, will end Tuesday evening in an epic national showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
It was a grueling end to a grueling, seemingly interminable campaign. In Trump’s wake are the reputations of a generation of Republican politicians, including Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio. Behind Clinton looms Bernie Sanders’s unfinished “political revolution.”
The two nominees crisscrossed the country in a flurry of last-minute campaign stops, with Clinton appearing in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina; and Trump making his closing arguments in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Michigan. Clinton was joined by Bruce Springsteen in the Keystone State, while Trump brought Ted Nugent with him on stage in Michigan.
Clinton appeared to have the edge going into Election Day: The New York Times gives her an 84 percent chance of winning, while FiveThirtyEight has it closer to 70 percent. Nationally, she’s held a consistent, if narrowing, lead since the nominating conventions in July.
Even polls commissioned by Breitbart, a pro-Trump website that has become the home of the alt-right movement, showed Clinton leading in the swing states of Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida. Without Florida, Trump has essentially no path to the White House. A Trump win would mean one of the biggest polling surprises in modern history.
Trump has been uncharacteristically reserved in the final days of the campaign, staying generally on script despite a few jabs at Clinton supporters Jay Z and Beyoncé. His closing argument has centered around the idea that the media, the elites, and politicians have all turned their backs on the American public, and that only he as an ultimate insider can “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.
“You have one day to make every dream you’ve ever dreamed for your family come true,” Trump told the crowd in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Monday afternoon, before walking off the stage to the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It was a jarring contrast between message and music, with the song Trump played, without explanation, to end the Republican National Convention and at nearly every rally since June 2015.
Onstage in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday evening, flashes of the Trump’s wild character began to emerge after an uncharacteristically restrained few days. He began his speech by boasting that his own celebrity friend, Tom Brady, had confided that he’d voted for him and given him permission to share that news. But Twitter sleuths immediately began casting doubt on this.
Trump then went on to disparage Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of the neighboring state of Massachusetts, as “Pocahontas” (Warren has claimed Native American heritage but there is no genealogical evidence to support her claim).
“She is just a terrible person,” Trump said. “Everybody in the Senate hates her.”
He promised, like a movie-trailer narrator, that on Tuesday night “the American working class will strike back. It’s about time.”
“Tomorrow we are going to win the great state of New Hampshire and we are going to take back the White House,” Trump told the crowd. “Do you want America to be ruled by the corrupt political class or do you want America to be ruled again by the people?”
Clinton’s weekend was buoyed by the FBI’s announcement Sunday that it would not be pursuing further investigation into her use of a private email server while she was secretary of State, removing what had been a dark shadow threatening to upend the race’s dynamics in its final weeks.
The Democratic nominee has not directly addressed her vindication, instead painting a closing picture of just how different she is from Donald Trump. Her final arguments have centered around the notion that she is ready to provide steady leadership, present a positive vision of America, and build up the American middle class.
Clinton was well aware of the stakes of Tuesday’s historic vote when she stepped on stage to a roaring crowd of 33,000 on Philadelphia’s historic Independence Mall on Monday night. Former President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, President Barack Obama, and first lady Michelle Obama joined Clinton to give an implicit message to the Democratic nominee and Pennsylvania Democrats: Don’t blow this.
It was also a farewell address of sorts for President Obama, who reflected on his nearly eight years in office and, with a mind for the future, entrusted Clinton to build on his policies.
“I still believe in hope,” Obama said. “‘Yes we can’ became ‘Yes we did.’”
In an appeal to Republicans who are on the fence about voting for the GOP nominee, Obama said he was betting that “true conservatives won’t cast their vote for someone with no regard for the Constitution.”
“I am betting that tomorrow, you will reject fear and you’ll choose hope,” he said.
Democratic heavyweights have traveled to Pennsylvania to campaign for Clinton not because they’re worried they’ll lose, but because the state does not have early voting. The goal of these events is to get their voters to turn out at the polls on Election Day. If the party’s voters don’t show up, Trump will likely win the state.
“You have to vote,” Clinton repeated throughout her address. “Let’s show tomorrow that there will be no question about the outcome of this election.”
Clinton spent little time on her opponent, and had a moment of reflection of her own, saying she “regret[s] deeply how angry the tone of the campaign became.” During the awkward pause, a supporter yelled: “Not your fault!”
Donald Trump’s path to the presidency, however narrow, could solidify if he wins Pennsylvania. If Democrats don’t turn out while voters in the conservative central and northern parts of the state do, he could pull off the upset if he fares significantly better than Mitt Romney did four years ago in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
But it would be a steep uphill climb for the GOP nominee, who hasn’t led in a state-wide poll there since July, and who trails 44 to 46.8 in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Clinton supporters, many of whom waited in line for hours to show their support, were energized to vote Monday evening and to move on from this year’s divisive campaign.
Tuesday night, both Clinton and Trump will hold Election Night “victory parties” in New York, where they reside. Trump will find out then whether his ultimate epithet, “loser,” will be attached to him forever in the records of American history.
—Olivia Nuzzi contributed reporting.