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Looking Back On Clinton's Path To Election Day As Voters Head To The Polls


Election Day is finally here. People are voting across the country, and we will be here all night bringing you the results as they come in. For now we're going to talk about how we got here. Donald Trump's unexpected rise to the top of the Republican Party has rocked the political system. We will have more on that elsewhere in the program.

Now NPR's Tamara Keith has a look at how Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major party and could become the first woman elected president of the United States.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If you want to know the kind of campaign Hillary Clinton wanted and expected to run, go back to her first event in April 2015, a roundtable discussion at a community college in Iowa.


HILLARY CLINTON: I think it's fair to say that as you look across the country, the deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there's something wrong with that.

KEITH: Clinton is by her nature a walk. She seems to thrive on listening to people talk about their concerns and developing public policy that could improve people's lives in ways large and small.


CLINTON: Maybe it is a bit of a woman's thing because we make lists.


CLINTON: We do. We make lists. And we try to write down what we're supposed to do and then cross them off as we go through the day and the week. And so I want you to think about our plans as our lists, our lists as a country.

KEITH: And maybe it was the universe's idea funny that this candidate who curls up with briefing books for fun would face an opponent in Donald Trump who simply doesn't bother with the details. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook says it was the candidate herself who decided the best course to take against Trump.

ROBBY MOOK: She also this spring as soon as it was clear that Mr. Trump would be the Republican nominee said straight up that he was unfit to be president.

KEITH: This isn't the normal way for a Democratic presidential candidate to run against a Republican, and it made some of her advisers nervous. It wouldn't be the typical fight about abortion rights, the size of government and tax policy. Clinton's decision meant each of Trump's Twitter wars or controversial statements would be added to a larger case she was building, a case she outlined in stark terms on the eve of the California primary in June.


CLINTON: He is not just unprepared. He is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.

KEITH: There was a risk in this strategy that Trump could stick to the teleprompter and start being more presidential. But Clinton and her team were able to undermine that with a big assist from a man named Khizr Khan on the final night of the Democratic convention.

Khan told the story of his son, a soldier killed in combat in Iraq while protecting the others in his unit. The Khan family is Muslim and expressed dismay at the way Trump was talking about Muslims.


KHIZR KHAN: Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you. Have you even read the United States Constitution?

KEITH: He pulled a pocket Constitution out of his suit jacket and changed the course of the presidential race. Trump hit back at Khan and his wife, drawing scorn from Democrats and Republicans alike. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook says neither Khan nor anyone on the campaign had any idea how much attention that speech would get from the public and Donald Trump.

MOOK: For him to show no regard for their sacrifice and attack them simply because he felt like his ego was damaged is - it's just frightening, and I think it was a wake-up call.

KEITH: This set up a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the campaign where Trump couldn't help himself from responding to perceived slights and made countless statements insulting immigrants, women, Latinos, all groups who if Clinton pulls off a win tonight will be part of her winning coalition.

Clinton's closing message at her final rally of the campaign in the wee hours of this morning spoke of an opponent she couldn't have imagined when she got into the race and one with whom she was able to draw the biggest contrast.


CLINTON: And where we prove conclusively that, yes, love trumps hate. Thank you. Let's go vote, North Carolina.

MCEVERS: That was NPR's Tamara Keith, and she joins us now from the Javits Center in New York City. That's where Hillary Clinton will spend election night. Hi there, Tam.


MCEVERS: So how are the folks in the Clinton campaign feeling today?

KEITH: You know, it seemed like a load was really lightened on Sunday when the FBI director, James Comey, came out with his letter saying that they - the investigation was back to being undone or back to being done on her emails. But...


KEITH: Also it was just this sense that the finish line was near. So at the end, the campaign really ended joyfully with the plane getting more and more crowded with close friends and high-level campaign aides. And now it's game day. They feel confident in their game plan, in their ground game. Their operation's to get voters out. And they said that at 8:00 a.m., the first volunteer shift had 10,000 people out knocking on doors.

MCEVERS: Win or lose tonight, you know, Hillary Clinton has already made history by being the first woman nominee of a major political party. I mean how much of a thing has that really been for her supporters up till now?

KEITH: Well, you know, right at this moment, I am seated in the Javits Center, which is a convention center. But it also happens to be a building that has a very large glass ceiling. And the symbolism is not lost on anyone.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Nice.

KEITH: So over the course of the campaign, sometimes it got lost. You know, this was a long, hard slog for Hillary Clinton. And she didn't want to focus on making history. But there were moments. Like, right before she clinched the nomination, she was campaigning in California. I was in Sacramento at a rally, and a woman standing next to me at the back of the room just started sobbing. And I asked her what was wrong, and she said it's been a long time coming.

And then today out at Susan B. Anthony's grave site in Rochester, N.Y., people have been lining up to put I voted stickers on her gravesite. And of course she was a leader in the women's suffrage movement.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. We of course will be talking to you a lot this evening. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.