NEW YORK—Anxious aides to Democrat Hillary Clinton watched key swing states Ohio and Florida go for Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday night, and they kept a close eye on Michigan and Wisconsin — two states that had seemed like safe bets for her as the presidential race shaped up to be far closer than her top strategists had anticipated.
As the night wore on and votes rolled in, the shape of the contest was startling to Clinton and her aides, who ended their campaign exuding confidence. Many stopped returning calls and text messages as the votes were tallied. Clinton, her family and close aides were hunkered down to watch returns at a luxury Manhattan hotel suite.
Democrats have carried Michigan in every presidential election since 1992, and the state is crucial to Clinton’s White House map. In the last four days of the race, Clinton made two stops there. President Barack Obama went to Ann Arbor to motivate young people who were slow to warm to Clinton.
Clinton won Virginia and Colorado, but her path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House was narrowing.
Wisconsin, a state Clinton’s campaign thought was secure, remained too close to call. She never campaigned in the state as the Democratic nominee, last traveling there in early April during the primary contest.
Other battleground states remained closely contested. Clinton staffers said they expected a close race in North Carolina but felt confident about Pennsylvania. Both, along with New Hampshire, remained too close to call.
Earlier in the day, Clinton voted at an elementary school near her suburban New York home with her husband, ex- President Bill Clinton. By Tuesday evening there was little left for her to do but watch, wait, and play with her grandchildren. The group snacked on salmon, roasted carrots, and fries—vegan pizza and crème brulee for the former president. The Clintons also stepped away to work on her remarks for later in the night.
Clinton’s campaign had picked a symbolic location for her election night party—the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, which, in a nod to the historic moment, offers a glass ceiling.
A number of New York politicians and top campaign surrogates were speaking to the thousands of Clinton supporters, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and singer Katy Perry.
Her subdued Election Day was a stark contrast from Clinton’s hectic final days on the campaign trail. The former secretary of state and New York senator dashed through battleground states, encouraged get-out-the-vote efforts and campaigned with a star-studded cast of celebrities. The eve of the election included appearances with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga.
After the divisive rhetoric of the campaign against Trump, Clinton sought to offer a positive closing message on Monday. She told supporters in Pittsburgh they “can vote for a hopeful, inclusive, bighearted America.”
Some good news boosted Clinton’s spirits in the final moments of the campaign. On Sunday, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress, informing lawmakers the bureau had found no evidence in its hurried review of newly discovered emails to warrant criminal charges against Clinton.
The late October announcement of a fresh email review rocked the race just as Clinton appeared to be pulling away from Trump in several battleground states. The update from the FBI may have come too late for some: In the nine days between Comey’s initial statement until his “all clear” announcement on Sunday, nearly 24 million people cast early ballots. That’s about 18 percent of the expected total votes for president.