They cheered the win in North Carolina, which Obama captured four years ago. But it was a rare prize. Almost all Romney staffers expressed shock or surprise that so many states had backed Obama.
Romney had been watching the returns in a nearby hotel, surrounded by his sons and 16 of his 18 grandchildren. Running mate Paul Ryan, in the same hotel, watched with his family.
"Paul and I have left everything on the field. We have given our all to this campaign," Romney said as he conceded.
The address was brief, just over 650 words long. He told reporters earlier Tuesday that he had written a 1,118-word victory speech that he thought would conclude his quest for the presidency.
Romney said he had no regrets no matter the outcome. He lost his 2008 bid for the Republican nomination to John McCain. After that run, his wife vowed she would never do it again. Eventually, she changed her mind.
"We're grateful that she convinced him to get into the race because we know that my dad has been uniquely prepared," said Romney's youngest son, Craig, as he addressed supporters early Tuesday evening.
As the state calls came in, and critical Ohio was called for Obama, Romney initially hesitated. He was set to leave his hotel to make the short drive to the ballroom where his event awaited. But then he held back. He waited nearly an additional hour. Aides quietly spread word he would step to the podium at 12:55 a.m.
His speech took less than six minutes. It ended as Romney's speeches almost always do.
"Thank you," he said. "Thanks, guys."
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