Romney: Perhaps more sure of a loss than he let on

BOSTON—Perhaps the biggest unknown about Mitt Romney in the waning hours of his campaign is whether his giddy behavior was a sign of a candidate truly at peace with losing his second bid for the presidency or whether he really believed the White House was within his grasp.

It's hard to believe Romney, who became a multimillionaire based on his obsession with numbers and data, could have missed the signs of President Barack Obama's looming victory. But if that was truly the case, in some ways, it's not surprising.

Over the last month, the momentum and energy of the race seemed to be on Romney's side, as he scored some of the biggest crowds of his political career—including 15,000 in Florida, 20,000 in Ohio and 12,000 in New Hampshire in the last week alone. Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane on Tuesday afternoon, Romney said he had intellectually felt he would win the race for some time but had come to that thinking emotionally, as well, because of his crowds.

The GOP candidate emphasized that point by telling reporters he had written just one set of remarks for election night: A 1,118-word "victory speech."

But was it all an elaborate head fake?

In hindsight, there were perhaps some clues Romney felt less confident than he suggested about the race. In recent days, there seemed to be a more wistful tone in how Romney and his wife, Ann, spoke of his long quest for the presidency—but reporters chalked that up to the family's relief at the campaign being over.

Yet there were also signs that Team Romney was truly blind-sided by the former Massachusetts governor's loss. As Romney took the stage, many of his senior staffers stood at the side of the stage, looking shell-shocked. Tears flowed, hugs were shared and their faces were grim.

Afterward, longtime Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom approached members of Romney's traveling press corps wearing a sad smile. He shook hands and bid reporters farewell.

Turning toward the exit, Fehrnstrom said, "I'm going to get a drink."