It was a grim election night party for Mitt Romney. First came word that he lost Missouri. Next came news of his defeat in Minnesota. With early returns showing the potential for a third loss in Colorado, Romney declined to wait for the final result and bolted onstage to congratulate rival Rick Santorum for his decidedly better night.
"The race is too close to call in Colorado at this point, but I'm pretty confident we'll come in No. 1 or No. 2," Romney told a few dozen supporters at the University of Colorado Denver. "I'm looking for a good showing."
The crowd was so small it would have been fitting for a city council candidate, and the mood was subdued: No balloons, no confetti, and almost no cheering until the moment the former governor of Massachusetts arrived.
Adding to the sense that this was no celebration, his wife, Ann, dispatched one of the couple's sons, Josh Romney, to perform her customary duties of thanking local supporters and introducing the candidate.
Shortly before Romney's arrival, Richard Pruett, 42, a Denver attorney, mused about the results.
"Missouri is somewhat painful," he said.
While the evening's losses were "not pleasant," he said, the main impact will be just to "draw it out a little longer."
Romney can take solace in the fact that all three contests tonight were symbolic, with no delegates at stake. But they served as a splash-of-cold-water reminder that after more than a month of Republican nominating contests, Romney has racked up only 73 of the 1,144 delegates he needs to be crowned as President Obama's GOP challenger.
With Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul still crisscrossing the country harvesting votes, tonight's defeats underscored the reality that Romney's cash and organization advantages will not necessarily translate into easy victories.