NEW YORK — By the time Sen. Hillary Clinton was declared the winner of Massachusetts' Democratic primary Tuesday night, her supporters were already dancing in the balcony of an old midtown Manhattan ballroom and chanting rival Sen. Barack Obama's campaign rally cry: "We're fired up. ... Ready to go!"
"Tonight, though, is your night," Clinton told the exuberant Super Tuesday election-night headquarters crowd. "Tonight is America's night. And it's not over yet because the polls are still open in California."
The cautious optimism that the Clinton camp displayed at the start of Super Tuesday evaporated into downright giddiness when Massachusetts — whose governor and two U.S. senators had thrown their weight behind Obama — went to Clinton.
"There was a media-created surge for Obama, but the voters had something else in mind," said Doug Hattaway, a Clinton campaign spokesman.
Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign chairman, entered the ballroom to high-fives and cheers after his candidate won Massachusetts, her home state of New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.
With half of the two dozen Super Tuesday states still undeclared, McAuliffe deemed it a "great night" for Clinton.
"It defied expectations," he declared. "It proves Hillary Clinton has momentum."
McAuliffe's effusive take was a departure from the muted expectations that Clinton's camp was conveying earlier in the evening as results rolled in slowly.
"It goes on," Ann Lewis, a Clinton campaign senior adviser, said shortly before Clinton was declared the winner of the New York primary. "This is a marathon; the starting gun has just gone off. This is a marathon that's going to continue."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a Clinton campaign surrogate, likened the Clinton-Obama showdown to a prizefight in which the fighters are trading punches.
"This is going to be a long night," Jackson Lee said right after Obama was declared the winner of Georgia's Democratic primary. "We expect there will be a lot of give and take — he will give and we will take, and we will give and he will take."
Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign's communications director, repeatedly told reporters on a conference call that Tuesday's voting would prove to be "inconclusive."
Clinton also was in downplay mode earlier in the day, sidestepping a question about whether she or Obama could deliver a Super Tuesday knockout punch to the other.
"I think that there is going to be a very contested race for the nomination," Clinton said on NBC's "Today Show." "And I actually think that's good news, because the more people are involved and the more they're really focusing on the issues, the better it is for Democrats. ...We'll be able to unify voters from the primary, plus everybody else who didn't get a chance to have their voices heard."