NEW YORK, United States – Billionaire populist Donald Trump, tapping into an electorate fed up with Washington insiders, was on the verge of a shock victory Wednesday over Hillary Clinton in a historic US presidential election that sent world markets into meltdown.
State-by-state, one-by-one, the 70-year-old maverick Republican tycoon racked up victories in defiance of the forecasts of pundits and pollsters, before arriving within striking distance of the White House.
Key races in Michigan and Pennsylvania remained to be called at 0630 GMT, but the 69-year-old Democrat’s supporters were in a state of shock and the markets did not wait for a concession speech to react.
US futures markets fell five percent in after-hours trading, mirrored by falls in London and Tokyo as the news broke that the world’s greatest economy could soon be in the hands of an untested protectionist.
The dollar tumbled against the yen and the Mexican peso slumped to a historic low against even the weaker greenback, on concerns that Trump might make good on his vow to build a wall on the US border.
In New York, it was a tale of two poll-watching parties — as Trump’s supporters whooped it up in anticipation of a victory for his populist campaign, Clinton’s camp succumbed to silent, stunned grief.
“It’s unbelievable. I didn’t know Trump was really going to pull it off,” said Glenn Ruti, a New Yorker who works in telecommunications.
“I think he’s going to go all the way. The country wants change.”
Attendees at Trump’s victory party at a Midtown hotel began chanting “Call it, call it!”
In America as a whole, it was a tale of two countries — as Trump’s largely-white fan base celebrated a repudiation of free trade, open borders and diverse communities, liberals and minorities cringed.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said 51-year-old Anabel Evora, who works for a non-profit and flew into New York as a supporter of Clinton’s historic bid to be America’s first woman president.
“I am praying, and I am not religious,” she told AFP. “I am sad. I’m about to cry.”
At the Mexican-American bar Campeon in Manhattan’s Union Square, the mood was one of disgust and apprehension.
“If Trump wins, I am going to throw up,” said 27-year-old Amy Goldstein.
Trump’s win, if confirmed, would halt Clinton’s quest to reach the White House for at least another four years — and instead confer the title of president on a man who has been accused by a dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct.
“He’s so un-American. We’re outraged. It’s shocking. Racism, stereotyping by religion and sex,” said Kate Kalmyka, a 36-year-old lawyer.
‘Drain the swamp’
At the bar in the soaring Trump Tower, the Republican’s home base and headquarters, a well-heeled crowd cheered and chanted “Drain the swamp” — Trump’s anti-corruption slogan.
“Without a strong United States of America, the rest of the world is in trouble,” declared Rina Corey.
“We were saved once by Ronald Reagan and I think Donald Trump is in the same path. He’s a citizen and not a politician. We need him desperately.”
In the Florida city of Miami, Cuban Americans — traditionally strongly pro-Republican — honked their horns and cheered as they gathered at the iconic Cafe Versailles in Little Havana.
“We didn’t like the fact that the country was leaning socialist, we lost many jobs,” said 45-year-old Miguel Alejandro.
“This isn’t the country I found in 1993 when I arrived by raft, when they received us with great excitement.”
As of 0630 GMT Wednesday, Trump had won at least 25 states and 245 electoral college votes, just short of the 270 he needed, and had narrow leads in partial counts in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Both these states were won by incumbent president Barack Obama when he was elected in 2008 and re-elected 2012 as America’s first black president, and pollsters had expected Clinton to keep them.
But an apparent collapse in Democratic support among white voters — not fully compensated for by increased Latino turnout — appeared to have doomed Clinton in blue-collar areas of America’s Rust Belt.
‘Whatever happens, thank you’
On the legislative side, the Republicans were on course to retain their majority in the US House of Representatives, according to network projections.
Clinton and her husband former president Bill Clinton were holed up in their hotel, but she tweeted: “This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything.”
Trump cast his ballot alongside his wife Melania in a Manhattan school gymnasium.
“Right now it’s looking very good,” he told reporters — paying no heed to protesters who welcomed him with chants of “New York hates you!”
The 2016 race was the most bruising in modern memory.
Obama’s election in 2008 had raised hopes of uniting Americans.
But the current contest has only highlighted the country’s divisions — and the fact that voters are not necessarily happy with their options.
Exit polls by ABC News and NBC News found that both Clinton and Trump are seen as untrustworthy by majorities of voters, while most find Trump’s temperament unpresidential.