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Inside Bernie Sanders' Michigan Night

Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not believe this would happen.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not believe this would happen.

On the morning of the Michigan Democratic primary, the Vermont senator took a while to get up and about. He had a late breakfast in the Detroit Airport Westin with his brain trust, and while rival Hillary Clinton shook hands in cafes in downtown Detroit, Sanders did radio hits in the hotel for some states not named Michigan.

No eager glad handing at a caucus site like he did in Nevada. No confident stroll through Burlington like he did on Super Tuesday.

By the end of lunchtime, the candidate seemed dead set on getting to his charter flight and heading to Miami as soon as possible.

Begrudgingly, Sanders held a small gaggle outside of his plane with his dwindling press corps, where he interrupted one reporter before she could even ask a question about the possibility of him dropping out.

“Do we have any real questions?” he asked.

He took one question on the importance of Michigan to his campaign.

“This is a very significant state for me,” Sanders said before pausing for a moment. “And for Secretary Clinton,” he added.

During the more than two hour flight, senior staff were bracing for a rough night in Michigan.

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Wednesday morning on CNN that his best guess for Michigan's results would be somewhere between “plus two and minus seven."

The team was already pointing to opportunities for momentum in other states later in March, never wavering on their commitment to the race, but looking for positives down the road.

They were managing expectations, whether intentionally or not, for the first time in the post-New Hampshire primary season.

The campaign unknowingly would only need to brace for a rough landing in Miami, as the wheels of the plane rammed down on the runway in the Sunshine State.

In front of 3,800 people at his Miami rally, Sanders did not utter the word “Michigan” once. The only other race Sanders has stayed totally silent about during a rally? South Carolina, where he suffered a crushing defeat a few weeks ago.

But by the time the exhausted staffers, press and Secret Service got to the hotel, something was different. A third wind blew through the campaign’s hotel lobby as Sanders was leading in Michigan by about five points with 50 percent of precincts reporting.

A clear podium all of a sudden flew across the room as staffers frantically tried to advance what they dared not hope would be a victory speech.

Meanwhile, the Twitterverse assured the world that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s white knight of Wayne County would soon come to the rescue for the frontrunner.

It was not happening enough, though, and an impromptu press conference/statement was frantically thrown together adjacent to the Miami Dadeland Hotel’s pool.

Cameras and lights and cords and microphones flew as reporters and producers desperately tried to get live-ready for cable news. Only two other print reporters were in attendance in addition to the network embedded reporters.

Sanders came down in a stereotypical huff, not even letting a smile escape him. After all, the race was still too close for comfort, and it had not been called yet. He thanked his supporters in Michigan, spoke for less than seven minutes, and left without taking a single question.

Less than an hour later, a small local Michigan newspaper called the race for Sanders. Then the Associated Press joined them. And so went the major media networks.

Sanders won Michigan by less than two points.

Cheers, hugs, yips, and red-faced grins came barreling into the lobby where just a little while earlier Sanders stood on unsure ground. Drinks flowed.

When NBC News observed to one aide that it seemed they had managed expectations well, the gentleman nearly spit out his beverage.

“We’re not that good,” he laughed.

Much later, after a series of delayed flights from Burlington, Vermont to Miami, Jane Sanders, the candidate’s wife and confidant, arrived at the hotel to join in the festivities.

“I’m just happy,” she told NBC News’ Kasie Hunt live on MSNBC before heading up to the unlikely victor’s room.

And with that, the Sanders campaign slowly flowed back into their rooms -- tired and in satisfied disbelief -- to prepare for Wednesday night’s debate.