Heated rhetoric, high anxiety: A bitterly divided country faces Election Day 2016


DENVER — In the final hours of an extraordinarily bitter race for president, fans of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump here had the same question: How can you possibly support someone like that?

Colorado ranked high among political frequent flyer destinations in the feverish closing days of the campaign, thanks to its new statewide vote-by-mail program and a notable percentage of voters who remained undecided at the eleventh hour.

Recent surveys, such as one from Public Policy Polling released on Nov. 4, suggest Clinton has pulled ahead, if not away, in the Centennial State and nationally.

But in a cycle that's defied prediction, the election came with a suspense of the kind unseen since the Supreme Court-decided 2000 showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

"It's a very close one," a concerned Jessica McHugh Geesaman said. McHugh Geesaman, 31, showed up for a Clinton canvassing drive with Lena Dunham and America Ferrera in a "Nasty Woman" shirt decorated with a coyly anti-Trump button.

"This is kind of a funky state, because we're really split between blue and red. There's a lot of more traditional, rural kind of rancher folk here. In Colorado Springs, you have Focus on the Family. You have pro-gun — some really crazy, crazy shit," McHugh Geesaman, who works in public relations and marketing, explained.

"But then again, in the Denver/Boulder area, you have a lot of people with graduate degrees who are concerned about the environment and love the outdoors, who are very pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-everything and just kind of want to live your life in peace," she said.

"Isn't that what we all kind of want?"

Indeed, that's kind of what people said they wanted at Trump's Saturday night rally at the National Western Complex — in their own way.

Fans waited six hours in some cases to hear Trump promise to repeal Obamacare, build the U.S.-Mexico border wall and deliver the biggest tax cut "since Ronald Reagan."

They waved "Hispanics for Trump" and "Women for Trump" signs. They embellished standard "Trump-Pence" placards with stickers announcing themselves as Christian voters; one man added the warning: "Hillary Will Eat Your Kids."

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"I like Donald Trump because he's going to keep the illegal immigrants out of this country. He's going to bring back jobs to America, and that's what we really need, and he's going to keep Crooked Hillary out of office," said Trevor Lavigne, 18, a student from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in a "Make America Great Again" shirt.

Lavigne said he distrusted Clinton because of the private server she maintained while at the State Department and her subsequently deleted emails. He also brought up longstanding sexual assault allegations against her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

He and his pals also said based on rampant WikiLeaks-fueled rumors, they believed people in the Clinton camp were "associated with Satanists," if not openly or actively engaged in devil worship.

They were not the only ones at the rally to express that view.

Celeste Katz/Mic

The final days and hours of the race continued the stomach-churning roller coaster ride Americans have enjoyed, or endured, since last year.

Clinton fans exhaled and rejoiced when F.B.I. Director James Comey reconfirmed his stance that the former secretary of state should not be prosecuted based on the email issue; Trump fans promptly cried foul. They came in on their nominee's side when he turned his attentions to trashing Clinton's all-star cast of surrogates, including Beyoncé and Jay Z.

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The T.V. told the story — and not even during news programming: During Sunday football, a montage of Trump's most inflammatory remarks, funded by the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA, ran back-to-back with a soft-focus testimonial ad starring the nominee's daughter, Ivanka.

All the while, prominent surrogates from Dunham and Ferrera to Bernie Sanders and Rudy Giuliani, who visited a twice-vandalized Trump campaign office in Denver, buzzed in and out of the state with competing messages.

But for all these endgame barnstorming messages, more than 40 million people have reportedly already voted, and many had done so before the new Clinton/FBI revelations or Trump fans' questionable claims of an attempt on his life in Reno.

And despite all the calls for unity from every direction, the election has caused rifts within families here as it has elsewhere, illustrating in a most visceral way that the divisive legacy of Election 2016 could be enduring no matter the outcome.

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Delaney Jones, who's taking a gap year before college and works as a cook, said he's in sync with the billionaire on a lot of issues:

I like the protectionism. I like the securing the border... I like his more isolationist view on foreign policy in terms of not getting involved in conflicts we don't need to [because] wars are expensive, especially when they're not accomplishing something, [and] it's not good for the psyche of the nation... He has said some very offensive stuff and that could potentially cause problems, but I don't think that's going to be anywhere near as disastrous as what Clinton would do.

But his father, Steve Jones, is a libertarian who's voting for Gary Johnson on principle — and because he'd like to get past the polarization of the two-party system.

Mom supports Clinton, they said — although because the family lives in a deeply Republican, rural patch of Elbert County, southeast of Denver, she's something of a local rarity in political tastes.

Not so in metro Denver, where Democrat Shawn Hall, 26, kidded after the Clinton canvass event that he and his husband would start packing for a move to South Africa if Trump won.

Clinton, Hall said, would protect women's rights; Trump would trample them: "Honestly, why wouldn't you vote with someone who's going to protect you — your mom, your sister, your best friend?"

The country will answer that question Tuesday.