I attended an interesting off-the- record dinner Sunday night in Manchester, N.H., with about 25 senior members of the press corps and a mix of Republican senior and junior campaign staff.

No great revelations, but it was interesting to hear the spin from the front lines and to compare the differences in perception between long-time political observers and the mostly younger campaign staffers.

I think it is fair to say that most of the journalists, many of whom have covered presidential campaigns for decades, are relatively agreed

that Mitt Romney will be the nominee and that such an outcome has been a given since Rick Perry collapsed. There was a casual comment made by a prominent conservative Republican from New Hampshire who said that Romney — whom he opposes — will win the primary with a vote in the high 20s. While this individual did not see this as a meaningful bump in Romney’s road to the nomination, others demurred, saying that such an unexpectedly low finish would breathe new life into the search for an alternative candidate.

But whom might that be? On this topic, the various campaign operatives made their cases — gamely — for their respective candidates. Not much new here, either, but the Santorum people seem genuinely confident that South Carolina will result in another strong — perhaps, upset — showing for the former senator, particularly if Newt Gingrich persists in ripping Romney with ads. (Gingrich’s PAC just got a $5 million dollar contribution, a sum that can damage, and it is flooding the airwaves in South Carolina attacking Romney’s business record.)

The Paul camp said that the mainstream media have grossly underestimated Ron Paul’s appeal to disaffected Democrats and independents and that their guy is attracting enthusiasm among young people reminiscent of what Barack Obama did four years ago. Paul’s people made clear that they see the race on three tracks: economic conservatism (Romney), social conservatism (Rick Santorum) and a radical anti-establishment track (Paul). It’s an interesting way to look at the race and, with proportional delegate appropriation (until April 1), a cause for concern for those who want a nominee fast.