America holds its breath after last-gasp pleas to electorate
Final drive by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump highlights bitter divide between their supporters
Anxious Americans are eagerly awaiting the result of the most bitterly divisive US presidential election in history, after heading to the polls to try to swing the vote one way or the other.
Democrats were given a late confidence boost from a final set of opinion polls that showed a small but consistent lead for their candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Early voting numbers pointed to a record turnout among the Latino population stirred into action by the anti-immigration rhetoric from the Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Clinton wrapped up her White House campaign with a first family affair featuring her husband and former president Bill and daughter Chelsea.
They were joined in Philadelphia’s Independence Mall by President Barack Obama and his wife and daughters and tens of thousands of supporters.
The Obamas hailed Clinton as “a leader we all trust” and rebuked Trump as “unqualified”.
“He lacks a basic understanding of the world,” the current president said.
Clinton asked voters to choose the values she stood for, and promised to unite a country polarised by the presidential race.
“We have to bridge the divides in our country,” she said. “I regret deeply how angry the tone of the campaign became.”
Clinton joked about Trump attacking her for having no stamina, saying she stood next to him for four-and-a-half hours, which proved she had what it took to be commander-in-chief.
Rock stars Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi also performed at the Clinton rally. Meanwhile, in New York, Madonna gave a surprise concert in Washington Square Park in support of Clinton.
Li Wei, a Chinese immigrant, waited in line with his wife and two children. He said he arrived in the US just months ago and was curious about election culture.
Steven Jackson, a Pennsylvania University student from New York, said he would be voting early to avoid a queue. “A vote counts for much more here,” he said. “A non-vote is just a vote for Trump.”
Trump was in New Hampshire for a theatrical election-eve rally in the state that launched his campaign for president by giving him his first victory in the Republican primaries. He took aim at Clinton for using celebrities to woo voters, saying: “Were they talking or singing?”
A roar of cheers filled a packed sports arena as the former reality-television star emerged from behind a curtain with his family members. They joined him on a long catwalk stroll to a centre stage lit with laser beams and smothered in dry-ice “smoke”.
Trump, who hijacked his conservative party and turned it into a vehicle for populist bombast, concluded his campaign by painting his rival as doomed to defeat and the corrupt creature of a discredited elite.
“Do you want America to be ruled by the corrupt political class, or do you want America to be ruled, again, by the people?”
He promised to end “years of betrayal”, tear up free-trade deals, seal the border, halt the drug trade and subject Syrian refugees to “extreme vetting”.
American expatriates in China were also gearing up for the election result. The US embassy in Beijing planned an election watch event for this morning. Some cafes in Beijing are also showing live coverage of the election.
Diplomatic observers in China expected Clinton to win and Sino-US relations to remain stable.
“If Hillary wins, her political experience as first lady, senator and secretary of state will all contribute to her success,” Yuan Zheng, an American affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.
“China policy under Obama was too soft and tolerant in many eyes. So the policy framework under Hillary would not change drastically, but in specific issues such as South China Sea and human rights, a Clinton administration might be tougher.”
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Kristin Huang and Stuart Lau