WASHINGTON — Donald Trump moved within reach of the White House Tuesday night, capturing crucial victories over Hillary Clinton in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, a remarkable show of strength by the celebrity businessman and political novice who upended American politics with his bombastic rhetoric and calls for sweeping change.
He also stunningly carried Pennsylvania, breaking through a Democratic firewall in a state that had not backed a Republican for president since 1988. His victories left Clinton with a perilously narrow path and no margin for error in battleground states where votes were still being counted.
As the race lurched well past midnight, Trump inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Trump stood at 264 to Clinton's 215.
Dow Jones futures and Asian markets tumbled, reflecting investor alarm over what a Trump presidency might mean for the economy and global trade.
A New York real estate developer who lives in a gold-plated Manhattan penthouse, Trump forged a striking connection with white, working class Americans who feel left behind in a changing economy and diversifying country. He cast immigration, both from Latin America and the Middle East, as the root of the problems plaguing many Americans.
A victory for Trump would threaten many of President Barack Obama's major achievements. The Republican has vowed to repeal Obama's landmark health care law, revoke the nuclear agreement with Iran and rewrite important trade deals with other countries, particularly Mexico and Canada.
Clinton's stunned advisers went silent for long stretches of the night. As the results rolled in, the candidate tweeted to supporters, "Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything."
Top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway touted the campaign's achievements, writing on Twitter that "rally crowds matter" and "we expanded the map."
Exit polls underscored the deep divisions that have defined the 2016 contest. Women nationwide supported Clinton by a double-digit margin, while men were significantly more likely to back Trump. More than half of white voters backed the Republican, while nearly 9 in 10 blacks and two-thirds of Hispanics voted for the Democrat.
If Trump pulls off the stunning upset, he'll govern with a Congress fully under Republican control. The GOP fended off a Democratic challenge in the Senate, winning key races in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and the party also extended its grip on the House.
Democrats, as well as some Republicans, expected Trump's unconventional candidacy would damage down-ballot races and even flip some reliably red states in the presidential race. But Trump held on to Republican territory, including in Georgia and Utah, where Clinton's campaign confidently invested resources.
The 45th president will inherit an anxious nation, deeply divided by economic and educational opportunities, race and culture. The economy has rebounded from the depths of recession, though many Americans have yet to benefit. New terror threats from home and abroad have raised security fears.
Clinton asked voters to keep the White House in her party's hands for a third straight term. She cast herself as heir to President Barack Obama's legacy and pledged to make good on his unfinished agenda, including passing immigration legislation, tightening restrictions on guns and tweaking his signature health care law.
But she struggled throughout the race with persistent questions about her honesty and trustworthiness. Those troubles flared anew late in the race, when FBI Director James Comey announced a review of new emails from her tenure at the State Department. On Sunday, just two days before Election Day, Comey said there was nothing in the material to warrant criminal charges against Clinton.
The Republican Party's tortured relationship with its nominee was evident right up to the end. Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush declined to back Trump, instead selecting "none of the above" when they voted for president, according to spokesman Freddy Ford.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a reluctant Trump supporter, called the businessman earlier in the evening to congratulate him, according to a Ryan spokeswoman.
Trump set both parties on edge when he refused to say in the third and final debate whether he would accept the election's results, citing with no evidence the possibility of a rigged outcome. His statement threatened to undermine a fundamental pillar of American democracy and raised the prospect that his fervent supporters would not view Clinton as a legitimate president if she won.
Asked Tuesday in an interview with Fox News if he would accept the election results, Trump continued to demur, saying "We're going to see how things play out."
Most problems that did pop up at polling places Tuesday appeared to be routine — the kinds of snags that come every four years, including long lines, machines not working properly and issues with ballots or voter rolls.
Even before Tuesday, almost 45 million people had cast ballots for president. Many expressed relief the end was in sight after an election season in which personal attacks often drowned out the issues.
Clinton has denounced Trump for calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and promoting a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and for his long line of remarks about women that culminated in an audio in which he bragged about grabbing their genitals. Her campaign was hoping high turnout among Hispanics push her over the top in states like Florida and Nevada.
"I grew up in a Hispanic family, and the way that Donald Trump has referred to illegal immigrants — being from illegal immigrants, I took that to heart," said Angel Salazar, a 22-year-old sanitation associate from Oklahoma City. "I don't like anything that he said. I don't like his views. So I voted for Hillary Clinton because she supports us."
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Bradley Klapper, Vivian Salama, Hope Yen, Jill Colvin and Lisa Lerer and AP Polling Director Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
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