As it became apparent that only 2% of New Hampshire primary goers had voted for Ben Carson, the mood at his election night party was sombre.

At least, the mood among Carson’s supporters was sombre. His campaign director, Bob Dees, was remarkably chipper. “This is not even below expectations for the campaign,” Dees, a retired general, told the Guardian.

Carson, a retired surgeon, briefly led the national polls in September, but that support has dwindled amid questions over his foreign policy expertise and, latterly, availability of laundered clothing and ability to successfully walk on to a stage.

“Obviously you’d like to do better, but this is not damaging for the campaign,” Dees said. It was about 9.30pm at this point. Donald Trump had already been declared the Republican winner, John Kasich was running second. Carson was in eighth place.

“This is a difficult state for a candidate such as ours,” Dees said. Asked what he meant by such a candidate, he said “fiscal conservative, social conservative, evangelical”.

Carson’s election night party was held in a function room of the Crowne Plaza in Nashua, about 20 minutes south of Manchester.

The attendance at the party briefly peaked at about 50 people. It wasn’t much of a party. Supporters milled around chatting. Food was served. There were two bars set up but neither was inundated. A woman working behind one of them spent much of her time knitting a blanket.

There were six separate clusters of balloons spread around the room. The balloons were red, white and blue. The local New Hampshire television station played during the party. It showed live footage from all the main presidential candidates’ celebration parties. All except this one. The Guardian was the sole representative of the journalistic profession.

“I’m not extraordinarily happy about it,” said Hunter Vars, 21. He has been door-knocking and making phone calls for weeks on behalf of Carson. “But it’s a little push in the long run. And we’re in it for the long run so we’re going to keep on pushing.”

James Horsely, 23, had been holding a Ben Carson sign beside a road for seven hours. He said his hands became very cold during the process. Horsely was wearing gloves but said he “should have worn mittens”.

His family are keen Carson supporters too. On Tuesday there had been a total of six Horselys holding signs, spread around the south of the state. Horsely was disappointed but philosophical as to the relevance of the New Hampshire result.

“It’s been substantially wrong as far as choosing the candidate concerned,” he said.

As it became apparent that Carson would not stage a remarkable recovery to win in the Granite State, the crowd began to dwindle. Dees was among those remaining. He was due to fly to South Carolina on Wednesday morning to campaign with Carson. He said he expected his candidate to fare better in the southern state.

“We didn’t throw the kitchen sink in here,” he said. “He’ll perform very well in South Carolina. He could easily be in the top three and above in South Carolina. He could easily win in South Carolina.”

Despite the disappointment of New Hampshire, Carson will not drop out of the presidential race any time soon, according to Dees.

“Probability of zero,” he said, when asked about the chance of Carson suspending his campaign before South Carolina’s 20 February primary. “And Nevada, probability of zero. Super Tuesday, probability of zero.”

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