“You realize how important it is that your entire life you’ve never seen a woman in the United States have power when all of Europe does. Why is this a problem?”
The hall was decked with a thick row of American flags and an enormous flag image behind the podium where Clinton planned to speak later. People were happy to wait for what they assumed would be good news.
Seven hours later, when Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta stood before the made-for-the-cameras tableau at almost 2 a.m., most of the crowd, once elbow to elbow, was gone.
“You’ve been here a long time and it’s been a long night and it’s been a long campaign,” Podesta said. “We can wait a little longer!”
Then he told the crowd to pack up. The building was scheduled to close minutes later. Go home and get some sleep.
“We’ll have more to say tomorrow,” Podesta said.
In between the jubilant atmosphere had dulled, then collapsed.
When Trump took Ohio, even though his victory there had been predicted, a nervous current passed around the room.
The senior Clinton aides who had mingled in the crowd and done television interviews were nowhere to be found. Most slipped into a roped off staff room with guards at the door. They never returned.
Left to answer increasingly urgent questions from reporters were a handful of fairly junior press aides, who looked uneasy and uncertain.
Senior advisers were not answering their phones.
Pop singer Katy Perry’s upbeat address drew somewhat dutiful applause as people checked and rechecked their phones or looked past her to television screens showing coverage of the returns.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a riff on a chant that had become a campaign trail staple, turning “I believe that she will win” into a reassuring ‘I believe and you believe.” But the applause was light.
Clinton herself was about a mile away at a hotel. Her campaign had given a cheery update about the dinner spread – salmon, roasted carrots and vegan pizza - and the setting where Clinton would watch the election returns.
Granddaughter Charlotte was wearing what an aide described as "a very adorable Hillary-themed dress," with Clinton's “H” arrow logo.
"We felt confident this morning and into the afternoon. Nothing has changed that," an aide said at the time.
But signs of trouble were already clear, and the campaign issued no further word of any kind until Podesta spoke.
The speakers took their turns – Mayor Bill DiBlasio, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cuomo.
Perry tried to sound enthusiastic, even as North Carolina and Pennsylvania looked likely to slip away.
With news of a Clinton win in Virginia, her supporters cheered. But the room quickly returned to quiet, and it grew quieter still, except when the huge screens behind the stage played videos and ads from the campaign.
A trickle of confused, somber-looking people started to leave. It turned to a stream by 11 p.m.
The last scheduled speaker had come and gone: Khizr Khan, whose Muslim soldier son was killed in battle in Iraq. The podium was dark, and even some of the people given special seating on the stage behind it had left.
By 12:30 a.m., the hall appeared half empty, and some of those who remained were hugging and crying.
A few lower-level Clinton aides also consoled one another, although they had been told no more than the reporters waiting for word on whether the campaign had concluded that Clinton no longer has a chance to win.
One woman in a grey Hillary T-shirt stumbled past a barricade and toward the door with tears wetting her jacket. She shook her head no when asked whether she would stop to talk about her disappointment. She made no attempt to wipe away the tears.
After Podesta spoke, the hall echoed with sounds of crates clapping shut. Television crews began packing their gear.