WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton told supporters Wednesday that they owed Donald Trump "an open mind and a chance to lead.''
Addressing stricken staff and voters at a New York City hotel, Clinton urged acceptance of Trump's stunning win after a campaign that appeared poised until Election Day to make her the first woman elected U.S. president. Clinton said she had offered to work with Trump on behalf of a country that she acknowledged "more deeply divided than we thought.''
Flanked by husband Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton Mezvinsky, Clinton's voice vibrated with emotion at times, especially as acknowledged that she had not "shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling.''
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concedes the presidential election. (Photo: Getty Images)
Clinton then made a direct plea to "all the little girls'' watching: "Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every opportunity in the world and chance to pursue your dreams.''
The speech followed a dramatic election night in which Trump captured battleground states like Florida, North Carolina and Ohio and shattered a longstanding "blue wall'' of states in the Upper Midwest that had backed every Democratic presidential candidate since her husband, Bill Clinton, won the presidency in 1992.
Democrats — starting with Clinton's campaign and the White House — were left wondering how they 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.''
Painful soul-searching for Democrats
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.''
Clinton's stunning loss was certain to open painful soul-searching within the party, which had endured a lengthy primary between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who drew strong support among liberals amid an electorate calling for change.