When Election Day arrived, just about everyone in politics had assumed for weeks that Hillary Clinton would soon be the next president. All it would take was California's trove of 55 electoral votes and a series of easy wins elsewhere to push her past the 270 she would need.
Not David Pace, Stephen Ohlemacher and AP's team of race callers and decision analysts.
They had prepared for months for all contingencies _ including a race that wasn't a blowout but a collection of close races that would demand deep analysis of AP's vote count, exit polls and the history of voting patterns state by state. To call the race for president before all others, and to do so with the unfailing accuracy the world expects from the AP on Election Day, would require excellence at calling those tight races that go deep into the night.
They did just that. And their call of the assumption-shattering result earns the Beat of the Week.
At 2:29 a.m. on Wednesday, Pace, AP's director of race calling, and deputy decision editor Ohlemacher agreed on the decision to call a winner in nip-and-tuck Wisconsin, and after consultation with Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee, triggered this historic FLASH message:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Donald Trump elected president of the United States.
The race call team had put AP ahead on the news that the billionaire businessman had scored the political upset of a lifetime by 11 minutes over Fox News, 19 minutes over CNN, 23 minutes over CBS and 26 minutes over ABC. NBC was the last network to call the race for Trump, at 3:04 a.m.
AP's feat was a testament to the work the race call team puts into getting ready for Election Day, a process that takes more than a year and involves months of training and practice for the group of more than 40 race callers, analysts and decision editors.
Early in the night, several networks jumped out ahead of AP in calls in some non-battleground states, as they relied on an exit poll that showed Clinton with a slight edge. But Pace and Ohlemacher noticed quickly the early vote count in New Hampshire showed the exit poll was overstating Clinton's lead by a substantial margin. In fact, in many states, she was behind from the start in the vote count. They immediately put the brakes on making race calls using the exit poll alone, forcing the team to perform extra analysis on races that would normally be quick calls.
Over the course of the night, that work allowed the AP to soon surpass the networks. The AP was the first to call several states, including the crucial battlegrounds of Florida and Pennsylvania. It was AP's call of Pennsylvania for Trump at 1:35 a.m., after Pace and his team concluded there weren't enough outstanding votes in Philadelphia or Allegheny counties for Clinton to catch up, that put Trump on the cusp of winning the White House.
Over the next hour, the focus turned to Milwaukee and a question of just how many outstanding early votes were left to be counted there. Some reports said more than 135,000, others put the number at as low as 40,000. The margin mattered in a state Trump ultimately won by roughly 27,000 votes. AP's vote count team, led by Director of Vote Tabulation and Election Research Don Rehill, confirmed it was the lower number.
With a recommendation from Wisconsin race caller Shelley Acoca and decision analyst Ted Bridis in hand, Pace reviewed the numbers a final time with Ohlemacher and Buzbee.
The call was made. The FLASH was filed. Donald Trump was officially the next president of the United States. http://bit.ly/2fGz3OX
"It was a very intense and chaotic night with huge amounts of uncertainty," Buzbee said. "But David, Stephen and their team kept their heads and kept their focus squarely on the facts _ on the real numbers, on hard data. We've never been prouder of the work they do."
In all, the race call team declared 4,778 winners on election night and the day after with only six missed calls _ none in a statewide race. That's an accuracy rate of 99.9 percent, which ties AP's previous best performance, in the 2012 general election. More importantly, this marks the second consecutive national election when AP's accuracy rate for Top of The Ticket races _ those for president, governor, Senate and US House _ was 100 percent.
For leading the team that delivered a flawless performance on Election Day and called the White House race before all others, David Pace and Stephen Ohlemacher share this week's $500 prize.