Donald Trump was poised to pull off a stunning upset in the US election early Wednesday morning as Democrats lost a crucial rust belt state that dashed dreams of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president.
Democratic campaign chairman John Podesta appeared before distraught supporters in New York to announce that Hillary Clinton would not be appearing to give a concession speech. “Everybody should head home,” he told them “Get some sleep. We’ll have more to say tomorrow.”
It was a moment of stunning anticlimax after a chastening night for the Clinton campaign and came as Trump stood only one state result away from the Oval Office.
At 1.35am, the Associated Press projected Trump had won Pennsylvania. He was also ahead in both Michigan and Wisconsin and just behind Clinton in a knife-edge race in New Hampshire.
Americans go to the polls in the strangest places – in pictures
But assuming Republicans are able to hold on to early leads in the usually reliably red western states of Arizona and Alaska, then Pennsylvania would be all he needs to put him over the top.
A win for Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey at 1.18am also confirmed – if Republicans hold Louisiana, Alaska as expected – that a President Trump will have the support of both a Republican controlled US Senate and House of Representatives.
Investors reeled from the prospect of a victory that would reverberate around the world and futures markets pointed to a fall of nearly 600 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The crowd at Trump’s watch party in the midtown Hilton grew increasingly excited as the evening went on. Loud cheers erupted every time returns from Florida and Ohio were shown on the television screen. The mood grew increasingly optimistic as attendees huddled anxiously around their televisions clasping their drinks and their cellphones in equally tight grips.
Aides to Clinton, holed up at the Peninsula hotel in Manhattan where she was watching returns with her family, went silent as the race tipped in Trump’s favour.
Clinton quickly sounded a sombre note. “This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything,” she wrote in a tweet aimed at supporters as the first early losses came in.
At a “victory party” for supporters, under the veil of a glass ceiling that was meant to be an epic symbol of a historic night when gender barriers were swept aside, there was even bleaker mood.
Thousands of people who filled the Jacob Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan – and the thousands more lining the blocks outside – had eyes glued to the TV. A woman clasped her hands over her mouth in disbelief as the newscasters announced Trump had won North Carolina.
Live US election 2016: Clinton waits to concede as Trump poised for win - live
Follow live update, analysis and results from the 2016 presidential election with as polls start to close around the country
The mood dropped markedly as results began to roll in: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina. Outside the Javits Center at the so-called “block party”, a couple embraced. The woman wiped a tear from her face and the man stroked her hair.
Another man, who identified himself only by his first name, Theo, called the results so far “scary and troubling”. “You don’t think there could be so much hate in this country – there is,” he said, an American flag drooping at his side.
Just a few hours before polls started closing, Trump’s team was still insisting he could yet shatter expectations with an election night upset that would reveal deep anti-establishment anger among US voters.
In another hopeful sign for Republicans, Ohio senator Rob Portman, John McCain in Arizona and Marco Rubio in Florida all comfortably held off Democratic challengers.
Exit polling by CNN suggested 88% of voters had made up their minds more than than week ago, before last minute FBI inquiries into Clinton’s emails temporarily raised fears of a late Trump surge.
Earlier in the evening, Clinton’s team expressed optimism about its prospects as the returns first began to trickle in.
“We felt confident this morning and into the afternoon,” an aide told reporters at the hotel. “Nothing has changed that.”
Anxiety was nonetheless palpable as the results swung in Trump’s direction, with aides going dark on reporters seeking further updates.
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