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It's up to the voters now.
An anxious and divided nation, gripped in the most serious health and economic crises of modern times, finishes voting Tuesday in what both sides describe as the most crucial presidential election in their lifetimes.
Partisans for President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden who disagree on almost everything agree on this: The stakes are fundamental and far-reaching, a choice that offers dramatically different visions for the future.
Scholars see it that way, too.
"Whichever way it goes, we're going to go down very different paths," said political scientist Susan Stokes, director of the Center on Democracy at the University of Chicago.
She struggled when asked if any previous elections seemed similar. "Maybe before the Civil War?" she suggested.
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The candidates' closing arguments reflected not only contrasting priorities but also clashing perceptions about what reality the newly elected president will face when he is inaugurated in January.
Trump assured supporters that the USA is "rounding the curve" of the pandemic – even though the number of new cases last week broke records – and that an economic boom was poised to take off.
“If I don’t always play by the rules of the Washington establishment, it’s because I was elected to fight for you, and I fight harder than any president has ever fought for his people," he told a rally Monday in North Carolina, the first stop in a day of barnstorming in four battleground states.
Biden accused Trump of having "raised the white flag of surrender" against COVID-19. Only after bringing the pandemic under control can the country hope to fix the economic upheaval in its wake, he said.
"We're going to beat the virus," he told a crowd in Cleveland on Monday before heading for Pennsylvania. “The first step to beating the virus is beating Donald Trump.”
Biden called Trump "a disgrace." Trump called Biden "a career politician who hates you."
A stunning 100 million votes already cast
Even before traditional polling places opened Tuesday morning, about 100 million Americans had cast their ballots, smashing all records for early voting. Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who directs the U.S. Elections Project, estimated that a total of 160.2 million Americans will have voted by the time the polls close Tuesday night, the highest number in history.
If that prediction turns out to be correct, the turnout rate among those eligible to vote would be 67%, the highest since 1900. (For the record, that was when Republican President William McKinley defeated Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryan.)
The superheated interest in this election has been fueled not only by voters' allegiance to their candidate but also by their alarm about the other guy. One in 10 Trump voters say in the latest USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll that they are voting against Biden, not for Trump. Almost a third of Biden voters, 30%, say they are voting against Trump, not for Biden.
The survey of 1,000 likely voters, taken by landline and cellphone Oct. 23-27, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
If Biden wins, "it's going to be terrible for the country, absolutely terrible," said Barry Brebart, 57, an architect from Chicago who voted for Trump and was among those polled. "It'll be four years of socialist, leftist legislation that will take a dozen years to undo."
If Trump wins, "I think it will say that a vision of the country that was inclusive and tolerant ... wasn't the case," said Tim Barber, 31, a Biden voter from Salt Lake City who works at a homeless shelter. "That we live in a far meaner, more brittle society that we were led to think we were."
By roughly 2-1, voters in both camps say they would be more than disappointed if their candidate lost. Nearly 6 in 10 Trump voters say they would be "scared" if Biden was elected. Two-thirds of Biden voters say they would be "scared" if Trump won.
The task of deciding just who won may take longer than usual, especially in states that by law can't begin to count the flood of mail-in and early ballots before Election Day. An unprecedented number of lawsuits in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have been filed over what ballots should be counted and when.
"As soon as the election's over, we're going in with our lawyers," Trump said. He complained about a court decision that will allow Pennsylvania to count absentee ballots that arrive up to three days after the election if they are postmarked by Nov. 3.
Will even a win settle this race?
Trump filed for reelection on the same day he was inaugurated nearly four years ago. Biden announced his presidential bid 18 months ago, part of the largest Democratic field in history. He prevailed in the primaries as the coronavirus began to take hold, transforming the election along with just about everything else.
The campaign is ending pretty much where it began. Biden's lead in national polls has widened and narrowed but never disappeared; the rolling average on fivethirtyeight.com put his advantage on the eve of the election at slightly more than 8 percentage points. Trump is counting on a stronger-than-expected showing in enough battleground states to repeat his feat in 2016, winning a victory in the Electoral College even if he trails in the popular vote.
Whichever candidate is elected will lead a nation riven by the divisions that gave this campaign season such a hard edge.
If their candidate loses, a third of Americans say "corruption" would be the reason, according to the USA TODAY/Suffolk poll. The president "shouldn't be seen as legitimately elected," they say. Fewer than half, 46%, say the other candidate would have "won fair and square and deserves the support of all Americans."
When the votes are counted, Job One for Trump or Biden may be simply convincing Americans on the other side that he really is president.
Contributing: Sarah Elbeshbishi
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Election Day gives voters choice of Trump, Biden and clashing visions