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Trump shows surprising strength over Clinton in early victories

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Republican Donald Trump displayed surprising strength in early results from states critical to his White House hopes on Tuesday night, testing Hillary Clinton's electoral firewall and making Election Night tighter than expected.

[NEW YORK] Republican Donald Trump displayed surprising strength in early results from states critical to his White House hopes on Tuesday night, testing Hillary Clinton's electoral firewall and making Election Night tighter than expected.

Mr Trump was leading by close margins in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina - all states that he needs to have a path to the White House. But he also was competitive in Virginia and New Hampshire, two states equally critical to Mrs Clinton's hopes.

With the early results showing a much closer contest than expected, S&P 500 Index futures sank 2.9 per cent and Mexico's peso plunged as much as 7.8 per cent versus the dollar, the most in eight years. Yields on 10-year US Treasuries plunged eight basis points to a two-week low.

It wasn't just the raw tally that buoyed Republican hopes. It was Mr Trump's ability to outperform Republican Mitt Romney's totals in 2012, particularly in rural counties. It was a sign that his turnout across the nation was even stronger than expected - and a bad omen for Mrs Clinton, who was counting on a superior ground game and anti-Trump animosity to get her voters to the polls.

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In Charlotte County, Florida, Mr Trump won 62.5 per cent of the vote, compared to 56.7 per cent for Mr Romney. The county is located on the state's Gulf coast, between St Petersburg and Ft Myers.

In Flagler County, Florida, one of the fastest growing in the nation in recent years, Mr Trump won 59 per cent of the vote. Four years earlier, Mr Romney scored 53.3 per cent in the Atlantic coast county.

Any realistic path to the presidency for Mr Trump includes Florida and its 29 electoral votes. Without the Sunshine State, he'd be forced to win some combination of states where Mrs Clinton has been ahead in the polls, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Virginia.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a Trump confidant, said he spoke with the nominee Tuesday morning and the candidate told him that he knew the tough odds he was facing. "He was very balanced, not Pollyannaish at all," Mr Sessions said.

In other states where polls had already closed, the two contenders ticked off easy and expected wins.

Mr Trump won in West Virginia, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky, all reliably Republican states.

Mrs Clinton was the victor in a group of Democratic-leaning states including Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont, according to projections based on vote counts and exit polls by television networks and the Associated Press.

Also being decided on Tuesday was control of Congress. Republicans were trying to sustain their Senate majority by defending 24 seats.

Democrats, with 10 seats at stake, were seeking a net gain of at least four to win control if Mrs Clinton wins the presidency or five if it's Mr Trump. In the House, Republicans were projected to retain their majority in the 435-seat chamber.

The balloting brought to an end a race that pitted a former television reality star against a woman who already spent eight years in the White House as first lady before becoming a senator and secretary of state. In some ways, the election will serve as a referendum on whether voters want to preserve the political establishment or blow it up.

VOTER SENTIMENT

Exit poll results released earlier in the evening showed 51 per cent of voters were bothered a lot by Mr Trump's treatment of women, while Mrs Clinton's use of private e-mail while secretary of state was troubling to 44 per cent, according to preliminary exit polling.

Exit poll data published by ABC found that 53 per cent of voters found Mrs Clinton qualified to be president, with 56 per cent saying she has the right personality and temperament, compared with 37 per cent and 34 per cent for Mr Trump.

The data also showed that the economy and jobs was the top issue for voters, at 52 per cent, followed by terrorism at 18 per cent, foreign policy at 13 per cent and immigration at 12 per cent, according to ABC. Voters were essentially split on who they trusted more to handle the economy, with 48 per cent saying Mr Trump and 46 per cent picking Mrs Clinton.

More exit poll details, including bottom-line numbers on who those surveyed voted for, won't be released until later in the evening. The survey was commissioned by the Associated Press and television networks.

HOLD OUT

The polls also suggests that the electorate is slightly more diverse than in 2012. In this election, the data shows 70 per cent of those casting ballots were white, down 2 percentage points, while 12 per cent were black and 11 per cent were Hispanic. Four years ago, 13 per cent were black and 10 per cent were Hispanic.

Voters are also slightly more educated in this election than in 2012, when 47 per cent were college graduates. In this year's balloting, 50 per cent had college degrees, which ABC said was a record high.

Mr Trump on Tuesday afternoon continued to hold out on whether he'd accept the results if Mrs Clinton is declared the winner. His son, Donald Trump Jr, said Tuesday on MSNBC that his father would concede if he clearly loses in a fair vote.

While a concession from a presidential candidate has cultural significance in helping the country accept the result and move on, it has "no legal status whatsoever," said Edward Foley, director of an election law programme at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.

If the race for the 270 Electoral College votes needed for the presidency isn't close, a concession won't matter in declaring an unofficial winner. But if it's too close to call in one or more states and the Electoral College outcome is in doubt, the winner may not be determined until the official state results are certified, Mr Foley said.

Recounts are always possible if the margin is narrow enough, or if a candidate requests them or legal challenges emerge. Mr Trump already has sued election officials in Nevada because an early voting station at a Las Vegas market stayed open until 10pm on Nov 4, past the normal 8pm closing time.

Local officials say the polling place stayed open to accommodate voters already in line at 8pm, as is allowed under state law.

Mr Trump voted at a school on Manhattan's East Side Tuesday morning after calling in to Fox News to reflect on the "beautiful process" of his more than 500-day campaign. As most polls showed Mrs Clinton narrowly favoured to win, he also warned of "purposely" inaccurate surveys and said he'd consider it "a tremendous waste of time, energy and money" if he lost.

CLINTON VOTES

Mrs Clinton cast her ballot in Chappaqua, New York. The first woman to be nominated for president by a major US party, Mrs Clinton said she'd thought of her late mother while voting and said, "I'll do the very best I can if I am fortunate enough to win today."

Stocks closed up, as did Mexico's peso, ahead of the election results. The S&P 500 Index posted its biggest back-to-back gain since June, and emerging-market shares rallied Tuesday.

The peso, which has become an indirect proxy for Mr Trump's chances of winning because of his anti-Mexican rhetoric and pledge to build a wall along the US border, rose 1.2 per cent to a two-month high.

The winner of the election will inherit leadership of the world's largest economy and a nation perhaps irreconcilably divided over immigration, trade and its role in the world.

Mrs Clinton, 69, may have a solid resume, but she's been dogged by federal probes into her handling of classified e-mails, questions about her family's foundation and public doubts about her trustworthiness.

'DRAIN THE SWAMP'

Mr Trump, 70, promised to "drain the swamp" of Washington corruption, yet he has faced withering criticism for his treatment of women and denunciations of immigrants. At times he fought with fellow Republicans as much as Democrats.

The campaigns drew very different visions of the US.

Mrs Clinton cast herself as an optimist and unifier who will build on the economic growth of President Barack Obama's administration.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, portrayed himself as the savior of a nation hobbled by bad trade deals, declining manufacturing and beset by illegal immigration and terrorist threats. He promises to "make America great again."

This year's race has been the most volatile in decades, defined not just by gaffes on the trail or during debates, but by the spectre of state-sponsored hacking and a federal probe - opened, then closed, then opened again and closed yet again - into Mrs Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.

After reviewing a new batch of e-mails found in an unrelated investigation, the FBI director last weekend said the bureau stood by a July decision not to recommend charges against Mrs Clinton.

'RIGGED' ELECTION

On the stump, Mr Trump repeatedly raised the possibility of a "rigged" election, saying he was fighting an uphill battle against the media and the Washington political establishment. He urged his supporters to monitor polling stations for signs of fraud, singling out cities with large African-American populations like Philadelphia and St Louis.

The Justice Department deployed 500 personnel to polling stations in 28 states on Election Day to protect voters against discrimination and fraud. That's down from about 780 who were sent out in 2012, the result of a Supreme Court decision that limited federal oversight in some jurisdictions.

While the national race will come down to Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump, the winner in some states could depend on how much support turns out for third-party candidates.

Former Governors Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts lead the Libertarian Party ticket, garnering 10 per cent in some polls.

Jill Stein had single-digit support nationally with the Green Party. And independent candidate Evan McMullin vied for leadership in some polls in Utah, where his Mormon background was a draw to voters in a state pioneered by the religion's founders.

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