An election like no other: How it may leave the status quo in Washington

The 2016 presidential campaign has ended in the same place where it started — with Donald Trump holding the nation's attention and Hillary Clinton holding the lead.

Trump's extraordinary journey began in Trump Tower in June 2015, and concluded Monday night in Michigan, where he hopes a late rally can snatch the state's 16 electoral votes from Democrats who have won it in six consecutive presidential elections. He needs to tip numerous others, too, such as Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

The billionaire developer's dream is that his coalition of supporters — men, whites without college educations, older and rural voters — will surge to the polls in numbers that defy pre-election measurements by pollsters. That's not impossible, but it is difficult, especially for a campaign that has been outgunned financially and organizationally throughout the fall.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
Gabrielle Lurie | AFP | Getty Images

Nearly all major pollsters tell a consistent story. Clinton led final pre-election surveys by around 4 percentage points; in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, she drew 44 percent to 40 percent for Trump.

Those numbers suggest a significant chunk of voters either still undecided or leaning toward third-party candidates. If Trump manages to sweep them Tuesday night, he could win.

Yet available signs point to the former secretary of state's broader, more diverse coalition overpowering his. Her lead with women exceeds his with men. Her lead with young voters exceeds his with senior citizens. Her massive edge among nonwhites undercuts his smaller edge among whites. She has led the polls among white college graduates — a group no Democratic presidential candidate has carried since the advent of polling.

The Electoral College ultimately settles the contest. There, the geography of the vote appears to favor Clinton, too.

In the NBC News battleground map heading into Election Day, she holds either large or narrow leads in enough states to reach 274 electoral votes. That's four more than she needs to win the White House. That total does not include states rated as toss-ups, such as Florida and North Carolina, where she appears to have benefited from late momentum or robust Democratic early voting or both.

If she holds those advantages once final tallies are counted, Clinton would become the nation's first woman president eight years after President Barack Obama, her one-time political foe turned staunch ally, became the first African-American. That would represent a remarkable pair of historical passages for a nation that, at its founding, permitted neither women nor African-Americans to vote.

That would not, however, spare a President Clinton the political trench warfare that Obama has faced. Democrats are narrowly favored to win the four Senate seats they need for a majority there, but the chamber will be closely divided in any event. Senate Republicans will hold substantial veto power over the next president's agenda whatever the outcome.

All seats in the House are up for election Tuesday. But few analysts give Democrats more than a sliver of a chance to gain the 30 seats they need for a majority. Given the way House district boundaries have been drawn by the states, only three dozen Republican-held seats present even a long-shot opportunity for Democrats to win.

What that points to is a 2017 balance of power largely resembling the 2016 balance of power. Given the electorate's oft-stated disconnect with the status quo in Washington, that may end up as the most remarkable result of all.