By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Orlando
The tourist paradise of Orlando is a place of fantasy where dreams are woven between the garish laser beams that poke up into the dark tropical sky from a thousand theme parks and attractions.
It is also, as Rudy Giuliani can now confirm, a place where dreams can be cruelly shattered.
The former New York mayor chose one of the plushest hotels in town for the post-primary gathering where he hoped he would be celebrating victory in Florida.
Instead, he found himself addressing a kind of political wake, where weeping supporters cheered his stump speech one last time and left disconsolately discussing where it all went wrong.
We always knew that Mr Giuliani's strategy of focusing his time, energy and money in the first big state to vote was one of two things; either a stroke of political genius that would rewrite the rule book about how you run for the presidency, or an act of madness that would see the long-time Republican front-runner fall at the first hurdle.
Now we know which it was.
As he took the stage, he paused before speaking to acknowledge the cheers of the faithful.
A woman in the crowd shouted encouragingly: "It isn't over till it's over." There were a few cheers and Mr Giuliani briefly looked encouraged, but he knew that it was over, and so did his audience.
Mr Giuliani spoke well, perhaps because he was free of the pressures of running for office with a realistic chance of victory.
The Florida vote was a key test for Rudy Giuliani
He touched on the familiar themes of his candidacy like tax reduction and the historic importance of the "War on Terror". When he paused towards the climax of the speech the voice of the same woman piped up again to shout: "They'll be sorry."
Mr Giuliani laughed and told her: "You sound like my mother."
If he had managed to sound as relaxed and light-hearted when he was in the race as he did in the moments when we began to realise he would be quitting it, then he might have fared a little better. We'll never know.
The man who was once styled "America's Mayor" couldn't quite bring himself to announce from the stage that he was out of the race, but no-one was in any doubt that his campaign was over.
Running for office in America is a costly business.
There were stories that Mr Giuliani had been spending up to a million dollars a week on TV advertising in Florida alone.
Add in the costs of chartering planes, hiring offices and paying staffers and you can see why even the most convinced Giulianistas knew their man was finished.
The costs of fighting on through Super Tuesday would be multiplied at least tenfold, maybe more, and no-one is going to keep pouring money into the campaign of a man who finished third in a state where he'd spent more than 50 days on the campaign trail.
The supporters who chatted with me as we wandered back into the night over a floor carpeted with discarded posters that proclaimed "Florida is Rudy Country" all made the same point.
Mr Giuliani largely avoided the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire
Rudy, they said, was a leader and had shown character under pressure in leading New York through the aftermath of 9/11 that none of the others, not even John McCain, could match.
But those two strengths also give you an insight into the problems that Mr Giuliani began to encounter after settling on putting all his eggs in the Florida basket.
First the question of character. Many Republicans don't like Mr Giuliani's attitudes on social issues like abortion and, in more than one state, Republican voters have told me they don't like his personal lifestyle - the divorces, and the reportedly difficult relationships with his own children.
Unfair perhaps, but that's conservative politics - any Republican president is going to have to offer America a first family with a degree at least of conventional stability. That was never Rudy Giuliani.
And he may have overplayed the 9/11 legacy. One Democrat parodied his speaking style as "Noun, Verb, 9/11".
Not that anyone was doubting the quality of the leadership he offered in that crisis, it's just that as the campaign got under way it became increasingly clear that middle-class jitters over the possibility of recession were the key issue.
Mr Giuliani never quite tuned into that fear, even though he talked repeatedly about the need to cut taxes and pointed to his stewardship of the New York economy.
Winners and losers
But in the end, the simplest reason is the most convincing.
John McCain's narrow win probably gives him a slight edge in the race
Mr Giuliani thought he could avoid toiling through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire - states where he never expected to do well - and make up the lost ground in Florida.
He will pop up in political science text books for years to come as an example of "How Not to Do It".
You can guarantee that the presidential hopefuls in 2012 will all be in Iowa - not much of a legacy for a man whose campaign has cost millions.
John McCain's narrow victory over Mitt Romney probably makes him a slight front-runner in the Republican race, but Mr Romney will be encouraged too by the closeness of the race - we can expect things to be equally tight on Super Tuesday.
But in a curious way, the night belonged to Rudy Giuliani. American politics is a gladiatorial drama of winning and losing, and now 2008 has its first big loser.