BOSTON — Around 11:15 p.m., a young man cupped his hands to his mouth — half in prayer and half in shock.
Fox News had just called Ohio for President Obama, bringing a deafening silence to the ballroom at Mitt Romney's Election Night party at the Boston Convention Center and — if the results hold — bringing an effective end to Romney's presidential hopes.
"Essentially, Barack Obama is re-elected," said the host.
A tour around the room, still only half-full, found people in various stages of mourning.
John Kubik, a donor from Orlando, pecked away at his iPhone, texting a friend the news: "They just called Ohio for Obama."
Asked how he felt, Kubik pulled no punches. "Horrible," he said. He's an arrogant Communist."
He added: "I felt he would win. I felt it would be closer."
Romney staffers, meanwhile, huddled in the back of the room, talking in hushed tones, and turning their backs when photographers tried to snap their wrung-out expressions. They'd always known the race would be tough, they said, but they'd at least expected it to be close. "Iowa by 10," moaned one, wondering how Romney had lost the state by such a large margin.
For Romney, Election Day was a time to relish a race that had evolved, slowly, sometimes painfully, from what often seemed to be a movement against the president into a genuine embrace, however firm, of the Republican nominee.
Tuesday was a day of family, of politicking and of ritual: By the end of the night, he was huddled with his children and grandchildren inside a hotel suite at the Westin, eating his favorite dish, meatloaf.
His day began at home, in Belmont, Mass., a tidy suburb of generously sized homes that yielded so many of the idyllic images that crowded his biographical campaign videos: his five sons tumbling across a couch, or turning a garden hose loose on their unsuspecting father.
After a breakfast of peanut butter and honey on toast, Romney and his wife, Ann, arrived at the Beech Street Senior Center, a polling place where a plaque on the wall describes the Romneys as "Diamond Benefactors." At the center, they found the same closely split loyalties that played out across the country. Pro-Obama signs shared space with friendlier handmade ones.
Inside, Romney took a long look at top of the ballot, and the small font that read "Romney and Ryan." Seeing his name "was quite a moment," he said later. "We've been working for this a long, long time, and to be on the ballot for the president of the United States is very humbling."
Although the campaign's internal poll numbers were tight, the mood was resolutely relaxed and playful. Stuart Stevens, the candidate's chief strategist, wandered to the back of the plane to shoot reporters with a Nerf gun.
Postcampaign, Romney said, he was thinking of getting a puppy. "Assuming I win, one of the benefits would be to get another Weimaraner."