The Washington Times - November 5, 2008, 01:13AM

 PHOENIX — Oddly, the mood at the “McCain-Palin Victory 2008” bash was not one of abject despair. Strangely, there were hugs, smiles, claps on the back, many shouts across the lobby of the Biltmore hotel, “Good job!” and “We’ll get ‘em next time!”
 Like a well-played sporting event against a worthy adversary, the losers took defeat on the field of battle in stride, aware that on this day, in this place, they simply could not rise to the level of play needed to prevail.
 “How could anyone have beaten him?” one man said of Sen. Barack Obama as he filed quietly off the lawn minutes after Sen. John McCain delivered an empassioned concession speech.
 Staff members and volunteers hugged each other and asked, laughing: “Well, what are you doing tomorrow?” Some had spent as long as two years working for a man they deeply believe in, but few had thought much about just what they would do on Nov. 5.
 Many have not been home in months; one had been away so long he finally gave up his apartment, put all his belongings in storage and simply lived on the road, out of a suitcase, in a hotel room, where his bars of soap were always tiny, his shampoo in single-serve sizes, and his Kleenex dispensed from a hole in the wall.
 Almost to a person, they were not sad. One upper-level staff member said: “Whaddya’ gonna’ do? We got our clocks cleaned. You pick it up and move on. Life goes on.” He said this, by the way, on his way to the bar, where many ended up.
 Reporters and “embeds” also faced a new unknown. One, a gregarious TV producer, had been on the campaign nonstop since January, with a two-week break in May and two weekends off after that. He had no idea what he was doing tommorow — “Maybe the network will offer me a job, but they aren’t hire right now so, probably not.”
 By midnight Eastern Time, the bar was packed. There was, of course, nsome wallowing. There were tears, but tears wept over who had lost, not over who had won. Tears for a man his supporters and staff call a true American hero; tears for his loss, how he must feel tonight.
 But always, there was the look to the future. As one longtime staffer headed off for his first full night’s sleep in months, he looked back and said: “We’ll get ‘em next time!”
Joseph Curl, senior White House correspondent, The Washington Times