WASHINGTON – After campaigning for over six hundred days and spending over six billion dollars, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump have nothing left to do but wait as Americans finally head to the polls to choose which among them will be their next commander-in-chief.
They offer the American public an unusually stark choice – not simply between a Republican and a Democrat, but between a man who is fundamentally an outsider, without experience in governance, and a woman whose life has been spent in public service.
Trump, who built a career in New York real estate, has come to represent among his supporters an opportunity to shatter Washington into pieces.
To his detractors, he is an illiberal demagogue, a sexist and a racist, who has exploited the country’s divisions for political gain.
Clinton, who has walked in the public eye for over 30 years, is to her voters a pragmatic centrist: an experienced former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state. Those opposed to her consider her the consummate politician, willing to say or do anything to retain political power, corrupted by wealth and influence.
A race that has at times felt bottomless in its filth and limitless in its vitriol barely affected America’s impressions of these two figures, who began their campaigns in January as two of the most unpopular general election candidates in modern US history. They remain so entering Election Day, with their approval ratings – after all that noise – largely where they were at the start.
Clinton, who will become the first female president of the United States if elected, has led most national polls since the start of the race.
She ends her campaign ahead of Trump by four points in three separate polls released on Monday, by Fox News, CBS News and ABC/The Washington Post.
On Sunday, she finally began to deliver the closing argument she had intended to give over the course of the last week, but was obstructed from doing so after FBI director James Comey announced unexpectedly on October 28 that the bureau was reviewing newly discovered material that may have been related to a prior investigation of her email practices at the State Department.
Comey announced on Sunday that the bureau’s query discovered nothing new on the former secretary.
“Our core values are being tested in this election, but everywhere I go, people are refusing to be defined by fear and division,” Clinton says in her final, two-minute long campaign video. “Tonight, I’m asking for your vote – and tomorrow, let’s make history together.”
The White House appears to be Clinton’s to lose, having several paths before her to the 270 electoral college votes required to win. Clinton campaign aides believe that early victories in delegate-rich North Carolina or Florida will shut down Trump’s chances definitively.
Trump’s final campaign ad, meanwhile, warns voters against a “global power structure” that has “robbed” America’s working class – and of a rigged system controlled by elite figures in media, politics and finance. The ad has drawn ire from the Anti-Defamation League and several other Jewish American organizations, who identified antisemitic undertones in its conspiracy theory.
Both candidates dispatched their top surrogates around the country’s many swing states to stump for votes.
Trump’s family members have been his primary surrogates in the campaign, while Clinton has relied on US President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and several celebrities to help elevate her campaign’s visibility.
And while polls open today nationwide, 36 million Americans have already voted in 38 states – including in critical battlegrounds such as Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Georgia, all of which have witnessed Latinos voting early at record levels.
Meanwhile, US law-enforcement officials are deploying personnel from the US Justice Department’s civil-rights division to polling sites in 28 states to monitor Tuesday’s election – five more than it had in 2012, the department said on Monday.
Most of those states will receive Justice Department staff who have no statutory authority to access polling sites, as a result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, curtailing the department’s ability to deploy election observers with unfettered access to the polls.
More than 500 Justice Department personnel will be deployed on Tuesday, compared with more than 780 personnel dispatched by the department during the 2012 general election.
On the campaign trail, Trump has warned that the election may be rigged and has called on supporters to keep an eye on voting activity for possible signs of fraud in large cities. Numerous studies have found that US voter fraud is exceedingly rare.
“As always, our personnel will perform these duties impartially, with one goal in mind: to see to it that every eligible voter can participate in our elections to the full extent that federal law provides,” Attorney-General Loretta Lynch said.
US intelligence officials will also be monitoring for cyber attacks on Election Day, after 17 US intelligence agencies determined over the summer that the Russian government had been interfering in the campaign through strategic leaks.
On his last day campaigning for Clinton, Obama told a crowd in Michigan not to fear electoral interference – and instead to reject fear-mongering that their votes would be compromised.
“After all the noise, after the negative ads, after all the campaigning, all the rallies, it now just comes down to you,” he said. “It’s out of Hillary’s hands now. It’s out of Michelle’s hands. It’s out of my hands. It’s in your hands.”
“The fate of our democracy depends on what you do when you step into that voting booth tomorrow, how many people you bring to make sure they vote,” Obama added.