Gov. William Donald Schaefer gritted his teeth, forced a smile and said he'd be happy with 62 percent of the vote in Maryland.
"I'm very satisfied," he told reporters. "I really am satisfied. I' not a bit angry. I am satisfied. If we'd gotten less than 60 I'd hav been a little bit disturbed. But getting 62 -- OK."
He sounded like a schoolboy who expected an A-plus in civics and found himself with a D-minus.
As it turned out, by his standard, he barely escaped an F: He ended up with just 60 percent of the vote; he lost 12 counties.
Schaefer had come into the ballroom of the Omni Hotel about 10:30 p.m. and pushed through the crush of people to pop out onto the stage like a cork out of a champagne bottle.
He listened more or less patiently to his running mates, Mickey Steinberg, the lieutenant governor, and Louis Goldstein, the comptroller, tell everybody what great guys they were and what a great guy Schaefer was.
He was already wetting his lips when O. James Lighthizer, the Anne Arundel county executive, introduced him as "the former best mayor in America and the present best governor." The best governor in America listened a little less patiently to his people clap and cheer as the band played "The Stars and Stripes Forever," not quite forever.
"First of all, I feel good," he said, with considerable conviction.
"I look out tonight and I see . . . some . . . really . . . loyal fans, friends who have been with me from. . . ."
"Day One," interjected Georgine Edgerton, the president of the Mount Holly Improvement Association who began voting for Schaefer when he had just emerged from the improvement association league.
". . . that first defeat in 1954 . . ."
"All right," Edgerton said. "Right here."
". . . that first victory of 1955 . . ."
"All right. Right here."
Lots of people laughed and applauded with Edgerton. They'd been with Schaefer right from Day One, too.
"And you know," Schaefer said, "this one was a tough one. I'll tell you that."
He said he missed some people who were not there.
"I miss my father and mother," he said, "and I miss a friend . . . and his name was Irv Kovens. Let me tell you. Many of you didn't know him, but I did, and I miss him. This is the first election I've had Irv wasn't here."
Kovens, the indefatigable fund-raiser and astute kingmaker who died last year, boosted Schaefer to that first victory of 1955 and remained his mentor and friend until the end.
Plenty of old friends were there. Nancy D'Alesandro, the widow of old Tommy D'Alesandro, came early and stayed late.
Her husband was the only modern Baltimore mayor whose popularity rivaled Schaefer's. She wore a plum-colored velvet pantsuit, an antique crucifix and a up-to-the-minute Schaefer badge. She came with an entourage of two. She voted early in Little Italy, still her home.
"I remember when Tommy was living, he had to be first," she said. "We try to keep up that tradition, but we don't always make it."
She sat down next to the bandstand, practically underneath the drummer, content to watch the evening unfold, applaud Schaefer's victory and receive an occasional friend who remembered the D'Alesandro years.
Schaefer called his victory decisive.
"I say decisive," he declared, "because I don't think you're going to find another governor having a better percentage than I do."
He may have been right. But he said it was still a tough campaign.
"And why was it such a tough campaign? The mood of uncertainty in our country. The philosophy of voting against all incumbents."
Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski appeared on the stage with the governor, smiling and cheerful, no doubt perfectly happy they didn't have to run in a year when the philosophy is vote against incumbents.
"Where do we go from here?" Schaefer asked. "Where do we go from here?"
"To the White House," the crowd suggested, fairly vigorously.
Schaefer seemed miffed because he had to ask twice.