BALTIMORE -- Things got bleak fast at Ben Carson's Super Tuesday headquarters in Baltimore's historic Grand Hotel, and it was mostly Ben Carson's fault.
Speaking to an upbeat crowd, the Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon turned political pundit turned presidential candidate, known for his his soft-spoken, sleepy, almost eulogistic speaking style, sounded even more funereal than usual.
“Even if we get a very imperfect candidate in there, it’s unlikely that they will destroy America," Carson postulated, hinting at a Republican primary that might not feature him. Indeed, Carson kept speculating about the possibility of an "imperfect" Republican candidate.
Asked by The Huffington Post to clarify whether he would drop out, Carson simply replied, "We'll see."
Carson's remarks, delivered while a monitor continued to play Fox News' broadcast of Donald Trump's press conference in Texas, took the air out of a room, which an hour earlier was humming with energy despite the candidate's poor performance.
"There's still so much left to be done, and this is just the beginning," said Dawn Geisler, of Germantown, Maryland, before Carson's remarks.
Echoed Tammy Evans of Cecil County, Maryland, "I'm still hoping that Ben Carson will get it."
But what if Carson doesn't win the nomination?
"At some point, we would maybe have to make a decision like that," replied Geisler.
That point appeared to come much sooner than the room had expected. The mood after Carson left the lectern recalled the aching sensation of watching a child gaze up at a balloon that just slipped from their grasp. There were no groans, no boos, no vocalized expressions of disappointment or shock, just downcast faces and consoling hands placed on slumped shoulders.
Carson's own campaign this past week has all but admitted its candidate is doomed. "Well, we clearly don't know," said campaign Chairman Bob Dees when asked by the Washington Examiner Tuesday about Carson's chances. "We don't have a well defined path to victory."
In the days leading up to the 13-state Super Tuesday primary, Carson's team couldn't wrangle a single major endorsement, despite the collective GOP freakout over the prospect of a Donald Trump candidacy.
On Monday, the campaign emailed reporters that campaign staff would be available for on-record interviews. Offering up campaign staff as surrogates, like listing one's mother as a job reference, is never a good sign.
Indeed, the location itself seemed to portend doom. Rather than hold his election night rally in one of the 13-states that held elections that day, Carson opted instead to hold it in his hometown of Baltimore, a nostalgia-filled choice that suggested the evening would perhaps serve as his farewell.
While Carson's shot at the nomination is near zero, there remains the question of what his delegates will do if the candidate drops out -- assuming they will be able to come to terms with it.
Conventional wisdom has dictated that Carson's supporters would flock to Ted Cruz, whose Christian conservative platform most closely mirrors Carson. However, polling suggests Carson's supporters are much more fractured, and generally appalled by the idea of a Trump nomination.
But nearly all of Carson's supporters on Tuesday said they were drawn to Carson's upbeat message of unity, and as such were put off by Ted Cruz surrogates suggesting Carson was dropping out the day of the Iowa caucuses and also put off by Marco Rubio's recent squabbles with Donald Trump.
"I used to have good feelings about Ted Cruz," said Judy Martin of Frederick, Maryland. "What he pulled in Iowa by telling people [Carson] had dropped out? That erased all my good feelings."
"It's not winsome," said Janet Osborne, an elderly Carson supporter from Frederick, Maryland, of Rubio and Trump's highly publicized imbroglio.
Janet's husband Jim, a navy veteran, said he doesn't think Trump is "for America at all."
"He says he wants America to win," Jim said, "I think he wants Trump to win."
"It'll take a miracle," added Janet. "We know the numbers."
Amy Ford of Cecil County, Maryland, speculated that if Trump were the nominee, she would "possibly move."
Out of the country? "Absolutely."
Update: March 2, 12:29 a.m. -- Carson insisted later in the evening that he wasn't leaving the race:
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