I decided to spend my last evening in New Hampshire at one of the victory rallies in Manchester in order to get a flavor of the campaign on election night that one doesn’t get from the television coverage. I decided yesterday to get out of the Radisson, where I could have watched the Newt Gingrich rally, and head to Derryfield Country Club instead for the Rick Santorum election night party. Despite its name, the Derryfield venue is a pleasant but hardly pretentious venue, with a smallish ballroom and a restaurant/bar on its top floor, with a golf pro shop and other facilities on a lower level.

I arrived early, and at first only brought my camera, as I assumed that the event wouldn’t have any easy place to set up my computer.  After a few minutes, I wandered into the restaurant/bar area and discovered a media filing center, where my friends Stacey McCain and Peter Ingemi had already set up shop.  Jake Tapper and his colleagues had just ordered dinner in the regular seating area, and after chatting with them for a couple of minutes, I retrieved my computer from my car.  I squeezed between Peter and Naureen Khan of National Journal, ordered a small plate of delicious crab cakes, and settled in for the evening.

Due to the relatively quick nature of the returns, the party never quite got rolling in the ballroom, although it attracted a lot of media and a good number of supporters, somewhere between 100-150, as a best guess.  The media had two risers stretching across the ballroom, plus a table on one side for print and broadcast media to use apart from the filing center in the restaurant.  This was the scene before the polls had closed:

Once the polls closed, it became clear as the ballot counts proceeded at a relatively quick pace that there would be no big surprise in New Hampshire as there was in Iowa.  The exit polls accurately predicted the order of finish, and Santorum and Gingrich ended up in a struggle for fourth place and double digits; as of this morning, Gingrich is ahead in that fight by 213 votes, but both finished below 10%.  As I wrote last night for CNN, that’s a bigger problem for Gingrich:

Neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich had a good night, but the impact probably hits Gingrich more. His late blast at Romney’s Bain Capital experience may not have backfired, but it certainly didn’t do anything to boost his chances, either. New Hampshire should have been a better ideological fit for Gingrich than South Carolina, and with conservatives like Rush Limbaugh blasting Gingrich for his attack on private-equity capitalism, Gingrich can’t expect to get a bounce in the Palmetto State.

Santorum’s struggle for double digits matters less because of the lack of affinity expected for Santorum in New Hampshire, and because his momentum in South Carolina among social conservatives and evangelicals probably won’t be slowed by a fourth- or fifth-place finish.

People at the Santorum HQ understood that as well.  Despite the low finish, people didn’t appear downcast at all.  As state campaign co-chair Dan Tamburello said in his introductory remarks as Santorum prepared to speak, they knew that New Hampshire wasn’t going to be Iowa, but they felt that they needed to show that Santorum would fight and compete in every state.  Santorum said much the same in his remarks:

All in all, it seemed like just another step in the path to South Carolina.  After the speech, I made my way back to the filing center to update a few thoughts and provide analysis to Hugh Hewitt from the Derryfield for his extended live election-night show.  By the time I packed my gear and got my coat, most of the rest of the people had already left — no doubt on their way to South Carolina.  I’m on my way back to Minnesota, but I’m glad for the time I spent in New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation contest.