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It promises the most compelling if unsettling theatre anywhere near Broadway.

The most bizarre presidential campaign in modern U.S. history is set for its final scene, as two candidates who can scarcely stand the sight of one another will hold their election-night parties within a 20-block stretch of midtown Manhattan.

A city that feels like the centre of the universe even under normal circumstances, and a part of town that is a magnet for visitors from across the United States and abroad, is a fitting stage for the culmination of a race that has prompted incumbent President Barack Obama to only half-jokingly suggest the very "future of the republic" is at stake.

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But there is another reason, too, that New York feels like an apt place to end the divisive, dispiriting race between two historically unpopular candidates: the palpable lack of enthusiasm, and the desire for this entire drama just to be over, even in the place both contenders call (or have tried to fashion) their home.

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Rather than hometown pride in the first presidential election since the Second World War to be waged by two New York-based candidates, the city – which is in a reliably Democratic state, and thus sees little of the advertising that blankets battlegrounds – feels more removed from the campaign than usual. In most of Manhattan there is almost no visible evidence of the election, such as campaign signs in storefront windows or buttons and bumper stickers; even the vendors hawking tourist merchandise mostly haven't bothered to load up with T-shirts or caricatures of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The strongest evident feeling here is hostility and scorn toward Mr. Trump, who – having grown up in Queens and spent much of his life trying to fashion himself the quintessential New York success story – seems to be viewed as a sort of local tragicomedy.

On Saturday afternoon, a few fans of the Republican candidate – highlighted by a large middle-aged man attempting some semblance of rap, with a "Drain the swamp! Trump it up!" chorus – gamely gathered outside the Trump Tower, where Mr. Trump lives and runs his business and campaign operations. For their trouble, they were met with jeers of varying profanity, while other passersby along Fifth Avenue opted just to take photos or video of this strange species in their midst.

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Down the street, artist David Datuna had pulled up with an installation called Make America Stronger Together – featuring an American flag covered with "SOS" in large print, an array of nasty Trump quotes and clippings, and a lot of life-sized hands reaching out from it – mounted on a trailer. Apparently meant as a call for unity (the title is a combination of the two candidates' slogans), it attracted moderate and slightly confused interest.

Beyond those couple of blocks, talk of Mr. Trump was mostly confined to hushed conversations. There are Trump fans in New York – the oft-forgotten blue-collar borough of Staten Island is dotted with supportive signs. But in Manhattan, talk of him was largely confined to hushed, disbelieving but still slightly nervous conversations about whether someone as ridiculous as him could actually win.

Preference for Ms. Clinton – who has a more tenuous connection to New York, having only claimed it as her base when she entered electoral politics after her husband's presidency – was generally implicit. That the Democratic nominee inspires less than wild passion locally, though, was underscored by a visit to her headquarters in Brooklyn Heights, which in keeping with her less flashy and more workmanlike candidacy is in a non-descript office building – a far cry from Mr. Trump's monument to himself.

With no visible police presence on Sunday, a lone protester – touting a handwritten sign proclaiming himself "a Democrat who wants answers" about Benghazi – screamed at the Clinton campaign staff streaming in and out of the building that their candidate is a "rotten apple."

In between the two headquarters – in the bars of the West Village, the shop-lined streets of Soho – it was almost possible to forget this grim election is even happening. And if that could be chalked up to the city's ever-increasingly young and privileged population not feeling the same anxiety as elsewhere in the country, it also served as a reminder of this town's vaunted ability to keep strong even at the most alarming of times.

It will be harder on Tuesday night, when midtown is overrun. Already, local media is filled with reports of police preparing for chaos, especially if the two campaigns are joined by the usual election-night crowd watching screens in Times Square.

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But then, most New Yorkers avoid that part of the city whenever they can, anyway. They're used to the theatre being mostly for the out-of-towners.

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