WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump took a dramatic step toward the White House Tuesday with crucial battleground victories in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio.
The victories are stunning for a candidate long seen as unlikely to win the presidency. Hillary Clinton's campaign was confident it was competitive in places like Florida and North Carolina, and even sought to expand the map with recent visits to traditionally Republican states such as Arizona.
An election season that has defied expectations from the very beginning is staying true to form to the very end. Trump has an increasingly viable path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win. And even if Clinton were to win, it would likely be by the slimmest of margins.
The Ohio victory is especially important for Trump, as no Republican has won the White House without taking the Buckeye State. North Carolina is a serious blow to Clinton, who fought hard for the state and held the final rally of her campaign there in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Clinton pulled out desperately needed wins in Virginia, Nevada and Colorado. Still, she faces a much stronger than expected challenge from Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin. Those Midwestern states form the bedrock of her Democratic firewall.
But the race is so close across the country that Maine and Nebraska, which split their electoral votes by congressional districts, could become important in deciding the outcome of the election.
The prospect of a Trump win quickly sent global markets tumbling, amid fears his vow to ditch global trade deals and brand China a currency manipulator would spark global economic shocks. Dow futures plummeted Tuesday night. Major indexes in Asia are also down.
So far, Trump has won 25 states, including Texas. Clinton has come out on top in New York and 16 other states along with the District of Columbia. Trump has 244 electoral votes compared to 215 votes for Clinton, according to CNN projections.
Regardless of who prevails, history will be made as Americans elect either their first woman president or side with the ultimate political outsider.
Both candidates argue the election presents an unusually significant choice for a divided nation. Democrats warn that Trump, with his rhetoric on race, gender and immigration, would represent a rejection of core American values. Trump insists his campaign represents America's last chance to drive out a corrupt political establishment that has turned its back on hard-working Americans.
New York is the center of the political universe this Election Day. This is the first campaign since 1944 in which both candidates are from the Empire State. And their election night parties are being held a mile and a half apart in Manhattan.
Route to 270
Clinton is counting on minority voters and highly-educated white women to take her to victory. Trump is banking on a huge turnout from his less well-educated, less diverse coalition will defy pollsters who give Clinton a small but steady lead nationally and are projecting tight races in some swing states.
At her last rally, past midnight in North Carolina, Clinton capped her campaign with the words "Love trumps hate."
Trump took to Fox News on Tuesday morning to declare he was confident about the outcome.
"We're going to win a lot of states. Who knows what happens, ultimately, but we're going to win," he said. The GOP nominee also took aim at polls showing that Clinton has the advantage.
"I think a lot of polls are purposely wrong. The media is extremely dishonest and I think a lot of polls are phony. I don't think they interview people. I think they put out phony numbers," Trump said on "Fox & Friends."
Trump also appeared to be laying the groundwork for a legal challenge in the event of a close race. His campaign sued Clark County officials over an alleged decision to keep early voting polling stations open two extra hours. The lawsuit targets the greater Las Vegas area, which has large minority precincts.
A judge later denied Trump's request.
The GOP nominee sent conflicting signals about his willingness to accept the result if he loses, telling News Radio 610 WTVN in Ohio that he would see what happens.
"You hear so many horrible stories and you see so many things that are wrong. So we'll take a look. Certainly, I love this country and I believe in the system, you understand that," he said.
Battle for Congress
The presidential election is not the only close race Tuesday. Democrats are battling to grab back the Senate from Republicans and scored their first pickup when war veteran Tammy Duckworth won her race against Republican Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois.
Democrats need a net gain of five seats to recapture the Senate. If Clinton wins the presidency, four pickups would be enough to allow her vice president, Tim Kaine, to cast the deciding vote in an evenly split chamber.
In the first significant Senate result of the night, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman won re-election, defeating former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.
The GOP, meanwhile, will hold onto the House of Representatives.