Suddenly, jarringly, the mood shifted. Where once there had been strained cocktail conversation, now there was tipsy chatter. Where, earlier in the evening, Bush supporters had to stretch for something to cheer about, now nearly every word coming from the huge Fox News screen dominating the front of the room seemed an occasion for joy.
The sad crooning of country singer Darryl Worley now seemed out of place. Where's the joy? Where's Shania Twain?
Just after midnight Karen Hughes came out to tease the crowd at the Republican National Committee's election night party at the Ronald Reagan Building downtown. "I have a feeling," she said, "we'll have some very very good news before the night's over."
She was followed by boxing impresario Don King, who said something incomprehensible, but rhyming and emphatic.
Then, at a quarter to 1: "Fox News is projecting that President Bush has won the state of Ohio."
For this crowd, it's as good as done. "Four more years! Four more years!" Look up in the balcony and see: dancing, V-for-victory signs, a woman in a cherry red suit taking off her "W" pin and flinging it deliciously into the crowd below.
It's hot in here now, and hard to move. The crowd seems to have doubled in the last two minutes; the GOP victory balloons and American flags and Bush signs seem to have appeared from nowhere.
The party, full of volunteers and donors and Republican supporters, no longer looks like a tame happy-hour affair but a rave. Men have taken their suit jackets off and are bobbing their heads to the music (right now, James Brown). Women are sweating. "I live in America," they're singing. The only ones who look glum are the foreign media.
Look! Look! There's a couple making out. Making out! In full view of the TV cameras. Two men behind a pole are holding hands, praying, Promise Keepers style.
Alaska's results are announced: 62 to 35 percent for Bush. Icing on the cake. For some reason, this is the thing that drives everyone really wild. People hold up their cell phones so friends can join in the fun.
"I knew it! I knew it!" says Frank Armor, a volunteer from Texas.
"There was no way they wouldn't see," he says, meaning Americans. "There was no way God would let us down."
A rumor runs through the crowd that Bush is on his way. Already it's business as usual. Arlene Rome, a supporter from Virginia, worries that the president is up too late, that he has to be back at work tomorrow.
"He must be tired," she says, hoping that Laura will "take care of him."
Already it's as if all that nail-biting, that "nation divided," that "too close to call" business were just a silly footnote. Earlier in the night news had been dominated by exit polls, which showed small leads for Kerry in key states. Now the real vote counts come tumbling, one after another, in favor of Bush.
Earlier in the night you'd have to scour the far corners of the Reagan Building to find any recognizable face from the Bush administration. But spokesman Scott Stanzel eventually appeared, his back to a cheering crowd.
Looking down at an e-mail filled with happy numbers from Florida, he cheerfully entertained any reporter who cared to listen.
"We always had our doubts about those exit polls," Stanzel said. "They were divergent from the numbers we were seeing on the ground."
The crowd behind him drowned him out with cheers. Darryl Worley picked up the rhythm. Stanzel yelled to be heard.
"Whenever reality is not going well for them" -- Kerry's people -- "they pushed the fiction that they were doing better than they were," he said. What a perfect Republican story line: Conspiracies! Don't trust the polls! Kerry controls the media! They tried to steal it from us but we prevailed.
Now on a huge screen just below the even huger American flag, the real unvarnished truth, live from Fox News: Brit Hume reporting that once, 12 long hours and a million years ago, a Bush staffer had wondered whether things looked gloomy and he should break out the Kleenex.