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From uncertainty to ecstasy at Clinton’s party

Here's how the night turned out at Hillary Clinton’s Election Night party — in a victory that few involved expected.
Image: Clinotns
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton celebrates her New Hampshire primary triumph Tuesday with her husband, Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea Clinton, at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.Justin Lane / EPA

Here's how the night turned out at Hillary Clinton’s Election Night party — in a victory that perhaps no one here expected.

7:10 p.m.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., entering the Clinton election night celebration at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, spots a vendor selling buttons.

“I got a McGovern,” the vendor says — a word that catches Jim’s ear — since the first campaign he worked on as an eighth-grader in 1972 in Worcester, Mass., was George McGovern's disastrous presidential effort. (The two men aren't related.)

Reminded that McGovern won only one state, Massachusetts, Jim McGovern jokes that George McGovern won Massachusetts “because of me.”

But he adds, “I was a little depressed when he lost 49 other states.”

Rep. McGovern jumped on the Clinton bandwagon in March. Now, early on Election Night with no returns in yet — but with some very daunting pre-election polls — he’s sounding a bit subdued.

He and Clinton are facing the prospect either of a second Clinton loss or a war of attrition.

A need for 'regrouping'?
“I endorsed her because I thought she was the best person, and I still believe that,” McGovern says. “I expected that she’d be able to win — and I’m still hoping that’s the going to be the case, if not here tonight, then I’m hoping there’d be some regrouping and strategizing so she does win.”

“A lot of people are trying to hurry the process along and write her political obituary,” but Iowa and New Hampshire “only are a small fraction of what we’re dealing with here.”

“Barack is brilliant and very capable leader; he has touched a nerve,” he says.

He adds, dryly, “Maybe he’s as perfect as you all say he is in the media — if he is, we’ll have a perfect candidate, and that’ll be fine with me.”

“I know Hillary can take a punch and get back up — I don’t know whether Barack can.”

7:40 p.m.
A cheer goes up in the hallway outside the gym where Clinton fans are lined up and ready to celebrate.

MSNBC has just announced early returns showing Clinton ahead with 38 percent.

A Clinton worker asks some of those in the crowd who are milling around in the hallway to “please move to the right.”

“This crowd will never move to the right,” cracks a wise-guy New Yorker, one of the many New Yorkers who have flocked to New Hampshire since last week to canvass for Clinton.

Aletta Schapp from Boston and Ida Schmertz from Manhattan are standing in the hall waiting to cheer Clinton.

“I’m here for fun, and it looks like more fun than I expected,” says Schapp.

“My expectation from the media” — she gives this reporter a piercing look — “was that Obama was surging tremendously and was unstoppable.”

“This is a great surprise,” Schmertz says, referring to the early returns. “I thought Obama was taking everything by storm like the Pied Piper.”

She gives the reporter a cutting look. “He’s a very attractive guy, he’s got great body language,” Schmertz says.

But “she’s much more qualified — and it’s not unimportant that she’s a woman.”

She adds, “Obama is a terrific guy, but he’s an unknown quantity.”

9 p.m.
Former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman and Clinton supporter Kathy Sullivan comes into the gym. No results yet from Nashua and other southern New Hampshire communities where she thinks Clinton should do well.

“Even though we all like to say Iowa doesn’t affect New Hampshire, it’s like a snake eating an animal,” Sullivan says. “It takes some time for that to move through the snake – since we only had five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, that’s very compressed time frame for that to work its way through the system.”

9:15 p.m.
Everyone in the gym is standing on tiptoe trying to see the numbers at the bottom of the giant-sized TV projection screen, which is tuned to CNN.

A mammoth image of Sen. John McCain appears on the screen as he claims victory in the GOP primary. The crowd cheers as CNN posts the results under McCain’s face: Clinton 40 percent, Obama 36 percent.

9:27 p.m.
“We’re on pins and needles,” says Rep. Joe Crowley, the bluff, 6-foot-6 congressman from Queens, N.Y.

“The anticipation was that we were almost preparing for a loss here and that it was going to be substantial. My feeling was that we come in and if we lose by less than five points, it’s a major victory. To be up by four or three points, it’s playing with our emotions at this point.”

A few moments later, CNN’s Gloria Borger draws a huge and militant cheer from the crowd when she says on the big projection screen, “Women are really supporting Hillary Clinton.”

State Sen. Maggie Hassan says she began to feel better during the day outside the voting place at the Exeter Town Hall as she stood holding her Clinton sign and greeting voters.

“It was the thumbs up and people looking me in the eye,” she says. When your own constituents avoid looking you in the eye, you know you’re in trouble; Hassan began to sense during Election Day that Clinton wasn’t in trouble.

“A number of people who I expected to be Obama people today said, 'Nobody’s been fair to Hillary,’” she says.

Exeter has the largest number of mobile home owners in the state, and in some of the mobile home parks the rules don’t allow political signs to be posted. So Hassan went door to door Sunday in the mobile home park to tout Clinton.

'Historic,' or not really?
Former New Republic journalist Sid Blumenthal, who signed on to help Bill Clinton in the dark days of impeachment, is chatting on the sidelines with a couple of journalist buddies.

In what seems to be a reference to Obama’s comment Monday in Rochester, N.H., that “We are about to make history here,” Blumenthal says sardonically, “Pretty f---ing historic, huh?”

It’s starting to feel like Clinton will pull this off.

10:17 p.m.
Clinton adviser Ann Lewis and Emily’s List chief Ellen Malcolm see each other on the gym floor and hug euphorically. “Ahhh! The women did it.” Malcolm points to exit poll data showing Clinton far outperformed Obama among women voters.

10:34 p.m.
The big screen flashes that The Associated Press has projected Clinton the winner. The crowd lets out a roar to wake the dead.

One 20ish campaign worker is crying. In a minute others are crying and hugging.

Euphoria breaks out.

Karen Hicks, a veteran New Hampshire operative, hugs Clinton deputy chief of staff Kris Balderston.

“It’s unbelievable,” Hicks tells me. “I’m so proud of New Hampshire.”

All around Hicks and Balderston, campaign workers 20 years old are crying, hugging and exchanging high fives, staggering. They look stunned, goofy, as if they had downed three cocktails in a row.

10:46 p.m.
CNN, too, calls the race for Clinton. Bedlam follows in the big gym.

Obama appears on the big screen, but the sound is turned off.

Someone turns on the sound as Obama says that thousands of voters turned out tonight because they were convinced that “this time must be different.”

A woman voice rings out, “Hillary’s gonna win!” and the crowd roars.

When I ask one of Clinton’s spokesmen, the battle-hardened political pro Phil Singer, how he feels, he tells me, “It’s a little overwhelming.” He seems to mean it.

10:55 p.m.
The sound is still turned up, but Obama's voice is drowned out as Clintonites talk to each other. Few seem to be paying attention to Obama.

11:04 p.m.
Hillary Clinton takes the platform. She mouths the words “thank you, thank you” and points to people in the crowd she recognizes.

Two minutes later, Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton come up to join her.

“Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice,” the candidate says.

In the space of four hours, the crowd has gone from uncertainty to ecstasy.