Trump wins key states, moves within reach of White House

NEW YORK — Donald Trump scored victories in the nation’s premier battleground states — and threatened even more in the industrial Midwest — as his White House prospects improved early Wednesday with a handful of battleground states still too close to call.

The New York billionaire’s working-class appeal appeared to resonate across America far more than pre-election polls suggested. Friends and foes alike acknowledged the very real possibility of a Trump victory.

“STOP saying ALL pollsters missed it,” Trump campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, also a pollster, tweeted late Tuesday.

The show of confidence came after the Republican nominee won Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. Trump also seemed to be exceeding expectations in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — all states that make up part of the Democratic Party’s “blue firewall.” Those three states, in addition to New Hampshire, remained too close to call.

Trump’s strong showing triggered an explosion of excitement inside the Manhattan hotel where he was expected to appear once a winner was announced. His supporters chanted “USA!” as the New York billionaire gathered privately with his family inside Trump Tower.

Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott, who leads Trump’s National Diversity Coalition, said presidential hopeful was loose and relaxed.

“Everyone was nervous but Trump,” Scott said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump Tuesday night to congratulate him on his “big night,” according to Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. She said they had a “good conversation.”

Earlier in the day, Trump refused to say whether he would accept the election results, injecting new drama into the final day of a turbulent election season. He also continued to raise doubts about the integrity of the election system, warning of possible voter fraud as his campaign sought an investigation into early voting hours in battleground Nevada.

Those warnings were largely forgotten as the political world envisioned a possible Trump victory.

“If Trump wins, he does deserve the benefit of the doubt because he was right on his chances and so many of us were wrong,” tweeted conservative leader Erick Erickson, who had aggressively fought Trump’s candidacy.

Trump’s near-daily warnings of a “rigged election” had become central argument from an outsider candidate who has repeatedly challenged the norms of presidential politics.

His outsider status ultimately helped him more than it hurt.

Trump’s political inexperience allowed him to cast himself as a change agent just as frustrated voters in both parties were hungry for change. The message was particularly effective against Democrat Hillary Clinton, a fixture in public service over the last three decades.

Yet his inexperience also fueled a series of self-created controversies, whether a days-long public feud with the parents of a slain soldier or late-night tweet storm citing a beauty queen’s “sex tape.” He insulted opponents from both parties in unusually personal terms, lowering the bar for political discourse in a way never seen before on the national stage.

Ever the showman, his strategy relied almost exclusively on massive rallies to connect with voters, ignoring the less-glamorous grunt work that typically fuels successful campaigns.

Pre-election polls suggested he was the least popular presidential nominee in the modern era. Yet the incomplete election results suggested that his approach worked, both in traditional battlegrounds and areas where Republicans hadn’t won in decades.

Still, it’s unclear whether Trump’s strength was borne from support for him or opposition to Clinton.

Debra Sindler, a 60-year-old real estate agent from Savannah, Georgia, said she wrestled with whether to support the New York billionaire even as she walked to the polls.

“It was really hard to vote for Donald Trump,” she said.

Peoples reported from Washington. AP writer Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.