Donald Trump cruised to victory in Ohio’s presidential contest, signaling what could be the first domino to fall in a line that snakes through the eastern United States and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The take-no-prisoners Republican also held narrow leads in Florida, and North Carolina, two states that could send America’s political power-balance tipping off a knife’s edge.
As vote-counters put Ohio in Trump’s win column, and took it away from Democrat Hillary Clinton – President Barack Obama won it twice – the New York Times’ live presidential forecast gave the billionaire builder an 91 per cent chance of winning the White House.
If Trump can hold on in other battlegrounds, a race that was widely considered Clinton’s to lose could slip out of her grasp.
With 95 per cent of Florida’s votes counted, Trump led Clinton by just 136,000 votes out of 9 million.
That would be enough to avoid the kind of recount that turned the 2000 presidential contest into a weeks-long soap opera.
In North Carolina, Trump clung to a 4 percentage-point edge with 84 per cent of the precincts reporting.
Ohio became a surprising cakewalk for Trump, who opened up an 11-point lead there with three-quarters of the votes recorded.
In the Manhattan ballroom where Trump supporters gathered Tuesday night, cries of ‘USA! USA!’ erupted each time Fox News reported that his Buckeye advantage had grown.
Earlier, before the good news began to trickle in, a senior Trump campaign official said to CNN as the results poured in: ‘It will take a miracle for us to win.’
When the network called the Illinois race in Clinton’s favor, the crowd let out loud boos. One woman yelled. ‘Lock her up!’
But then the atmosphere changed racially – and at Clinton’s party it went from confident to dejected.
The disappointment was summed up by Katy Perry turning up to rally the troops – and instead telling them her parents voted for Trump.
Other important states whose winners couldn’t be projected immediately included Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Millions of Americans cast votes Tuesday for the two polarizing candidates who have split much of America into warring camps.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, earned victories in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Virginia looked like a squeaker early: With 81 per cent counted, Clinton led Trump by less than 2,000 votes out of 3 million cast.
But many of the late-reporting precincts in the Old Dominion were in four counties where Democrats typically win sizable majorities.
Trump, the real estate tycoon, claimed wins in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. Most of those states finished as election watchers expected them to.
Early projections making the rounds online and republished by the Drudge Report news website suggested that 140 million voters are participating, a new record, far exceeding the 131.4 million total in 2008.
First-time voters, in particular, are fueling the massive increase. That group is swinging toward Clinton by a 55-37 margin, according to Fox News Channel exit polls. Trump’s campaign built its momentum in part on the promise of bringing a ‘silent majority’ out of the woodwork.
Fully 22 per cent of Hispanic voters told pollsters that it was their first time at the polls, suggesting Trump’s tortured relationship with Latinos has come back to bite him.
American presidential elections typically turn on vote totals in just 12 of the 50 states.