The raucous crowd crammed inside the downtown Hilton ballroom had known the outcome for two hours: their candidate, Newt Gingrich, had reversed Mitt Romney's momentum in a double-digit win that sent the GOP nomination into a vortex of uncertainty.
They had celebrated long enough, gyrating to "Don't Stop Believin'" - a Journey hit that seemed appropriate for a candidate who had often been discounted - and sipping on sparkling Merlot from a cash bar outside the ballroom. Some looked tipsy, including a particularly happy supporter who slammed "Newt 2012" stickers onto everyone she encountered.
But it was after 9 p.m., and the other candidates had conceded. Gingrich had been introduced more than 25 minutes earlier. The excitement turned to wonder and annoyance.
Where exactly was he?
"We want Newt, we want Newt," the crowd yelled in unison as the same tracks piped in loudly from the ballroom speakers.
Heads turned to the door every few seconds. Security guards kept hedging on the time, offering anxious reporters different answers.
But make no mistake, this was his party, and he'd arrive when he wanted to. About 30 minutes after his appearance had been promised by bubbling supporters, Gingrich bounded up on stage to a raucous crescendo of cheers. He delivered a passionate and stinging rebuke of President Barack Obama and the elite media, bringing a swarming, searing ballroom the happiness it had wanted.
"President Obama is a president so weak he makes Jimmy Carter look strong," Gingrich said.
The former House speaker continued several of his familiar attacks on the president, promising to change America into a country of jobs instead of food stamps. He blasted the president on foreign policy and Obama's rejection of Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas but focused much of his attack on the economy. Gingrich barely even mentioned Romney in his speech.
The crowd no longer seemed to care.
"The people of South Carolina saw a candidate who could deliver an effective attack on President Obama," said Chad Connelly, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. "They saw a candidate with passion who wasn't afraid to deliver the truth."
Connelly, who has often reminded anyone in earshot that South Carolina picks presidents and has for the past 30 years, wouldn't back down from his prediction Saturday night.
The uncommitted chairman was flanked by former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and other prominent Gingrich supporters outside the raging ballroom.
Bauer said Gingrich engaged in uncomfortable conversations – like calling Obama a "food stamp president" – that many candidates avoided for fear they would be labeled as racists.
"Finally someone's saying you got to do something and right the ship," Bauer said. "We've got a $15 trillion debt we've got to do something about."
Looming questions remain in the fight for the nomination, and whether the Palmetto State's streak of picking winners will continue is uncertain. But there is little doubt Gingrich's victory will propel the GOP race into deeper discord as it heads to the Jan. 31 Florida primary.
Among them: How will Romney face issues regarding his tax returns, which he has previously declined to release? Will Gingrich face extended fallout for errors he made previously in his personal life? Who will voters find the most electable? Can Paul or Santorum re-enter the race or at least further splinter the vote?
Those questions could be answered in Florida, where Gingrich will be joined by Cass Arble, who positioned herself just outside the ballroom and sold large buttons to Gingrich supporter.
Arble, who is from North Carolina, said she had traveled with the candidate from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina. She attracted a slew of television reporters, who interviewed her for almost an hour.
"We've worked very hard," she said with a beaming smile. "This feels so great."