NEW YORK (AP) — Gone was the ballroom with a soaring glass ceiling, the confetti and the celebrity guest stars. Instead, Hillary Clinton looked out to a group of grief-stricken aides and tearful supporters, as she acknowledged her stunning loss of the presidency to Donald Trump.
Clinton’s voice crackled with emotion as she said: “This is painful, and it will be for a long time.” But she told her faithful to accept Trump and the election results, urging them to give him “an open mind and a chance to lead.”
Before Clinton took the stage at a New York City hotel, top aides filed in, eyes red and shoulders slumped, as they tried to process the celebrity businessman’s shocking win after a campaign that appeared poised until Election Day to make Clinton the first woman elected U.S. president.
Clinton, who twice sought the presidency, told women that nothing had made her “prouder to be your champion,” adding, “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But someday, someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.” Her remarks brought to mind her 2008 concession speech after the Democratic primaries in which she spoke of putting “18 million cracks” in the glass ceiling.
“To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams,” she said.
Projecting an image of unity, Clinton wore a purple blouse and a dark blazer with a purple lapel while her husband, former President Bill Clinton, stood wistfully by her side, applauding during her remarks.
It may have been the final public act for the enduring political partnership of the Clintons, who appeared on the verge of returning to power after 16 years. If Clinton had won the election, it would have marked the first time a former first lady was elected U.S. president.
Clinton’s campaign was trying to make sense of a dramatic election night in which Trump captured battleground states like Florida, North Carolina and Ohio and demolished a longstanding “blue wall” of states in the Upper Midwest that had backed every Democratic presidential candidate since Clinton’s husband won the presidency in 1992.
As Democrats were left wondering how they had misread their country so completely, mournful Clinton backers gathered outside the hotel Wednesday.
“I was devastated. Shocked. Still am,” said Shirley Ritenour, 64, a musician from Brooklyn. “When I came in on the subway this morning there were a lot of people crying. A lot of people are very upset.”
Flanked by her husband, daughter Chelsea Clinton and running mate Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton said she had offered to work with Trump on behalf of a country that she acknowledged was “more deeply divided than we thought.”
Kaine, who introduced Clinton on Wednesday, spoke about his first-ever loss in any election, calling his running mate a great history maker. He also thanked her for the opportunity.
“I want to thank Hillary Clinton for asking Anne I to join this wild ride,” Kaine said. “We’ll remember the 105 days we’ve had with this fantastic couple of public servants and all of you for the rest of our lives.”
The results were startling to Clinton and her aides, who had ended their campaign with a whirlwind tour of battleground states and had projected optimism that she would maintain the diverse coalition assembled by President Barack Obama in the past two elections.
On the final day of the campaign, Clinton literally followed Obama to stand behind a podium with a presidential seal at a massive rally outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. As she walked up to the lectern, the president bent down to pull out a small stool so the shorter Clinton could address the tens of thousands gathered on the mall. Before leaving the stage, Obama leaned over to whisper a message in Clinton’s ear: “We’ll have to make this permanent.”
The devastating loss for the party, which will no longer hold the White House and will be in the minority of both chambers of Congress, was certain to open painful soul-searching among Democrats, who had endured a lengthy primary between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The so-called democratic socialist drew strong support among liberals amid an electorate calling for change but had joined with other liberal stalwarts such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in backing Clinton’s general election bid.
The tumultuous presidential cycle bequeathed a series of political gifts for Clinton’s GOP rival: An FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, questions of pay-for-play involving her family’s charitable foundation, Sanders’ primary challenge and FBI Director James Comey’s late October announcement that investigators had uncovered emails potentially relevant to her email case.
Yet her team spent the bulk of their time focused on attacking Trump, while failing to adequately address Clinton’s deep liabilities – or the wave of frustration roiling the nation.
Every time the race focused on Clinton, her numbers dropped, eventually making her one of the least-liked presidential nominees in history. And she offered an anxious electorate a message of breaking barriers and the strength of diversity – hardly a rallying cry – leaving her advisers debating the central point of her candidacy late into the primary race.
Clinton’s campaign was infuriated by a late October announcement by Comey that investigators had uncovered emails that may have been pertinent to the dormant investigation into Clinton’s use of private emails while secretary of state. On the Sunday before the election, Comey told lawmakers that the bureau had found no evidence in its hurried review of the newly discovered emails to warrant criminal charges against Clinton.
But the announcement may have damaged Clinton while her campaign tried to generate support in early voting in battleground states like Florida and North Carolina. In the nine days between Comey’s initial statement and his “all clear” announcement, nearly 24 million people cast early ballots. That was about 18 percent of the expected total votes for president.
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