NOVI, Mich. – Lips pursed, arms crossed and heads shook last night when TV screens showed projections that presidential candidate Mitt Romney had won the state’s primary election – a blow to John McCain and hundreds of the Arizona senator’s supporters in attendance at an election night party in Novi.

The party, hosted by McCain’s Michigan campaign at the Novi Sheraton Hotel, started slowly with only a handful of people mingling until around 8 p.m., when almost 300 politicians and McCain campaign boosters wearing suits and McCain stickers started pouring into the banquet room.

McCain was not in attendance. He had already left the state to continue his campaign in South Carolina in preparation for the state’s Republican primary on Saturday.

“It definitely helps at a victory party to have your candidate there, but McCain knows he has to get to South Carolina,” said LSA junior Justin Zatkoff, co-chair of Midwest Students for McCain.

Few other students were in attendance at the event. Three young toddlers wearing shirts with red glittery letters spelling “MAC IS BACK” caused the average age in the room to plummet, though.

While waiting for results to come in, McCain supporters shook hands and state politicians schmoozed as Nancy Grace spoke on CNN in the background.

Attorney General Mike Cox, chairman of McCain’s Michigan campaign, worked the crowd, praising McCain’s character and policies.

“I think he’s much like John F. Kennedy, in that he’s a true American hero,” Cox said.

Cox echoed McCain’s remarks from the last few days, saying lost jobs from the weakening auto industry won’t return to Michigan, but that McCain will “change the way we educate folks.”

As the clock ticked past 8:30 p.m., Zatkoff anxiously checked his iPhone in an effort to find data on the exit polls.

“If (McCain) wins, that’s just the nail in Romney’s coffin,” Zatkoff said at the time.

But about a half hour later, Romney was projected as the winner after jumping out to an early lead in the primary. With only 9 percent of precincts reporting, many networks were predicting that Romney would beat McCain.

Mutterings of “Well, it’s still early,” died down from the pack as the spread between McCain and Romney widened.

The crowd tried to stay optimistic, though, saying McCain’s loss was only a bump in his campaign road.

“It hurts John McCain, but it doesn’t hurt him as much as it would have hurt Romney had he lost,” Zatkoff said.

McCain supporters emphasized that because Romney pulled resources from other states to focus on Michigan – his native state – Romney was expected to win the state, making the victory less notable.

One McCain supporter remained positive about the campaign despite the loss.

“Campaigns never go in one direction,” said Joe Giordano, a McCain supporter from Rochester, Mich. “They go up and down.”

At the end of the night, McCain phoned into the party to thank his supporters.

LSA junior Andrew Boyd, executive director of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, said he was disappointed, but thinks McCain is in it for the long haul.

“We’re just looking forward to South Carolina now,” he said.

Matt Galvan contributed to this report.

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