Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose affability is his trademark, spent his last day of the Maryland gubernatorial campaign racing between polling places, joking with voters and mugging for the cameras with a gee-whiz glee.
"Everybody straighten up," the Republican told campaign workers during a stop at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg. "We have TV here again!"
As television cameras rolled and campaign volunteers waved Ehrlich signs, the candidate beamed the smile that helped propel him from a rowhouse in working-class Arbutus to the governor's mansion.
"We're quietly confident," Ehrlich, 44, told reporters before correcting himself. "Not so quiet, actually."
In the final, frenetic sprint of his improbable candidacy, Ehrlich -- who began a long shot and ended the winner -- traveled from Baltimore to the Washington suburbs. He obligingly autographed campaign literature, shook hands with Democratic opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend when they met by chance in Prince George's County, and even posed for a photo in Chevy Chase with a campaign worker's dog.
He ended the evening at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore, where jubilant supporters chanted, "Go, Bobby, go!"
As they watched his vanquished opponent concede on television, Ehrlich's supporters loudly mocked and jeered her, singing, "Nah nah nah nah, hey hey-ey, goodbye."
Taking the stage a few minutes before midnight, a grinning Ehrlich slapped double high-fives on running mate Michael S. Steele and declared, "Tonight is about high-fives and history."
Ehrlich called Townsend "a class act" and urged his followers to applaud her even as they celebrated a Republican recapturing Maryland's governorship.
"To Republicans, our time in the desert is over!" Ehrlich said.
Throughout Election Day, as on most other days during the campaign, Ehrlich was better at transmitting his unpretentious charm and ex-jock drive than articulating his political philosophy. "We've worked our tails off," he said.
Ehrlich began his public day by voting and by enduring with good cheer the routine indignities of running for office.
After oversleeping, he showed up at the Padonia Park Club in Timonium north of Baltimore shortly after 8 a.m. with his photogenic wife, Kendel, and 3-year-old son, Drew. Most voters on hand applauded politely, but Trish Powers, 38, let out a hearty boo.
"You're a liar, Ehrlich," Powers called, leaving the candidate looking slightly puzzled.
Ehrlich, holding his son, was soon surrounded by four camera crews as television journalists asked him, in all seriousness, how he was feeling.
"There's a real feeling of calm as the campaign ends," Ehrlich replied, sounding sincere.
His wife, standing next to him, rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right," she joked. "Ooo-kay."
While the Ehrlichs voted side by side, their son smiled for cameras that were recording the moment. "Feel good," Ehrlich said afterward. "It's good to vote for yourself. At least I got one."
On Election Day, even breakfast -- scrambled eggs and wheat toast -- had a political subtext. Ehrlich, who has courted Democratic voters, headed for Baltimore to eat at Jimmy's, a Fells Point institution and hangout for Democrats. Among them: William Donald Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor who is now state comptroller.
Ehrlich and a small entourage chose to sit beneath a sign saying "Governor Schaefer's Table," an apparent coy reference to the support Ehrlich received from some Democrats allied with Schaefer. "The dirty secret's out," Ehrlich said. "I do eat ketchup with my eggs."
Ehrlich, in dark gray suit, white shirt and red tie, spent much of yesterday meeting and greeting voters in the Washington suburbs, remaining alert for opportunities to schmooze with an ever-present press corps.
Ehrlich's confidence appeared to grow as the day wore on and he received encouraging reports about heavy turnout in areas of the state where he is popular.
"Meet Maryland's next first lady," he said in an afternoon stop with his wife at the Chevy Chase Library.
After two midafternoon stops in Prince George's County, Ehrlich raced north to the friendly embrace of Arbutus, the Baltimore suburb where he grew up.
A visit to the polling station at Arbutus Middle School, where the candidate attended junior high, was more like a homecoming than a campaign stop. The election officer running the station was Ehrlich's aunt. Among voters who arrived to cast their ballots for Ehrlich were former classmates and his proud parents.
A visibly giddy Ehrlich greeted voters saying: "They tell me it's unanimous in there. Keep it going."
About 6 p.m., Ehrlich arrived at the Hyatt for his post-election party as workers were setting up tables in a ballroom.
He told reporters he'd been crafting a victory speech for weeks. But it wasn't until 1:30 a.m. yesterday that the candidate, wide awake, finally scribbled a few thoughts in case he had to concede defeat, he said.
"I think we're going to win," he said, adding that if he did, "we're not going to Disney World. We're going to Ocean City."
As returns trickled in throughout the evening, emotions seesawed. Ehrlich campaign officials sounded alternately elated and nervous about his prospects for capturing the governorship.
But when he finally took the stage victorious, Ehrlich sounded as though he already was eyeing his next conquest.
"Another guy just called me," Ehrlich said. "He said his name was W. He asked me when I could visit Camp David. I said, 'Hey, that's ours, isn't it?' "