Rick Santorum wins Iowa – It was the Republican primary win that wasn't. An initial tally gave the Iowa caucuses to Mitt Romney by eight votes, but the final count awarded the win to Rick Santorum, whose early primary campaign put enormous pressure on the former Massachusetts governor.
The War on Women's war over contraception – A federal mandate requiring religiously affiliated institutions, like universities and hospitals, to offer insurance coverage for contraception triggered a politically charged "war on women" fight and generated fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and other groups. The Obama administration later offered a compromise plan.
The War on Women: Sandra Fluke – Sandra Fluke is the Georgetown University Law School student who testified before Congress on the need for access to reproductive health care, including contraception. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut." Fluke campaigned for President Barack Obama and spoke at the Democratic convention on women's rights.
Rep. Todd Akin and 'legitimate rape' – Rep. Todd Akin touched off controversy with his comments on rape and pregnancy during his bid for U.S. Senate from Missouri. He lost the support of establishment Republicans and fundraisers but stayed in the race before losing on Election Day.
The Republican primary frontrunners – The Republican presidential primary fight ran into April when Mitt Romney finally overtook Rick Santorum. The road to the nomination included periods when frontrunner status changed hands in the field that included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Utah Gov. John Huntsman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Attorney General Eric Holder held in contempt – Eric Holder became the first sitting U.S. attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over certain documents sought by Republicans in their investigation of the botched Arizona-to-Mexico gun-running sting known as "Fast and Furious." Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, walked out in protest during the House contempt vote in June.
Supreme Court upholds Obamacare – The Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's healthcare reform initiative in a landmark 5-4 vote in June that supported the politically charged law's individual mandate requiring Americans to purchase health coverage.
Obama administration immigration directive – President Barack Obama announced in June that his administration would stop deporting some young immigrants if they met certain requirements. The annoucement drew scrutiny from the right for usurping congressional procedure and from the left for not going far enough on immigration reform. But many in the immigrant community were relieved.
The Supreme Court Arizona immigration decision – The Supreme Court ruled in June to uphold the Arizona immigration law's most controversial feature -- the "show your papers provision" that allows police to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. But the decision also dismissed Arizona's right to regulate immigration at the state level - bringing the debate back to square one.
Movie theatre massacre in Colorado – After the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, that killed 12 people and injured 58 others, the campaigns paused to remember the victims. While there were calls from gun-control advocates for a discussion on the issue, both campaigns largely side-stepped the issue.
Romney's overseas trip – Just ahead of the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney took an overseas trip meant to bolster his foreign policy credentials. But he stumbled. In London, he criticized the efficiency of the London Olympics. He also visited Israel where he angered Palestinians in suggesting Israeli culture was the key to its success.
Clint Eastwood's RNC appearance – Clint Eastwood took advantage of his prime speaking spot at the Republican National Convention to say - well, we're not sure we remember. We were too focused on the empty chair he decided to talk to instead. The routine was viewed as the lone glitch in an otherwise smooth convention for Romney. Some later questioned the campaign's decision to put Eastwood on before Mitt Romney's acceptance speech later that night.
President Bill Clinton's DNC speech – Center-stage at the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton brought down the house with what some political strategists called the political speech of his career. He also did what many criticized Barack Obama for failing to do - communicate Obama's vision for the next four years.
Deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi – The attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans triggered fierce political controversy over how the armed assault came about. It influenced the potential nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to become secretary of state. Rice, who was the Obama administration's early point person for explaining those events in Libya, withdrew her name from consideration in December.
A new campaign: Early voting – In 2004, 22% of Americans voted early and that rate rose to 34% in 2008, according to Paul Gronke, professor of political science who founded and runs the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon. The number was expected to rise to 40% of the electorate in 2012 - and President Barack Obama's campaign knew it. Its early voting strategy included get-out- the-vote efforts starting with early voting in September. Even Obama voted early, becoming the first sitting president to do so.
A new campaign: Obama ground game – The Obama campaign's grassroots efforts, fueled by data-crunching intelligence, was credited in part with his re-election on November 6. The campaign ammassed a wealth of information on voters in 2008 that it used to its advantage to turn out voters battleground states this time. The Romney campaign's turnout effort got a much later start and was further impacted by a lengthy primary campaign.
A new campaign: Big money – At last count, general election spending totaled $4.2 billion - and some estimates are as high as $6 billion. That's sharply up from the $3.8 billion in 2008, making this year's presidential race the most expensive to date. The rise of super PACs ushered in a spending frenzy with some individuals betting tremendous sums on their candidates.
The first debate – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came out swinging in the first debate while President Barack Obama was off his game. It was a debate performance that gave new life to Romney's campaign. But Obama came back in the second meeting with more drive. Afterward, Obama joked: "As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well-rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate."
Superstorm Sandy – Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast just days before Election Day, bringing floodwaters and leaving millions without power. The New Jersey Shore was especially hard hit. Gov. Chris Christie was a top Romney surrogate who praised President Barack Obama's response to the storm. Some said the move hurt Romney with voters but Christie later told ABC's Barbara Walters that he had no regrets about praising Obama.
Obama re-elected – After almost a full 12 months of campaigning, hundreds of hours on the road and billions of dollars spent on the election, President Barack Obama was re-elected with 51% of the popular vote. He also won 332 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to return to the White House for another four years.
Petraeus resigns – General David Petraeus rocked the Obama administration just after the election by resigning his post as director of the CIA. It was revealed that the former four-star general had had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Redistricting claims some Republican seats – Redistricting is credited with strenthening House strongholds for Republicans, but it also claimed the seats of several GOP incumbents in states like California, Florida and Illinois. Among those not returning to Congress in January is Rep. Allen West of Florida, a tea party darling. His loss was partly due to a redrawn district.
Women and minorities rise in Congress – For the first time in the nation's history, women and minorities will hold the majority of the Democratic House seats, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News. Those members represent what is being called the new American electorate - a quilt of minority voters that is increasingly identifying with the Democratic Party while the GOP retains mostly white voters. The nation's changing electorate led Republicans to call for more outreach to wormen and minorities in the days following the election.
Mormon moment – Mitt Romney's GOP presidential nomination was supposed to usher in the "Mormon Moment." By all accounts, however, Romney avoided talk about his faith outside of poginant moments. Still, Romney's role in the church was held up by campaign surrogates as a testament to his character.
Syrian conflict – Reports that Syria might be preparing to use chemical weapons against rebels in that country's nearly two-year civil war, triggered alarms worldwide. The Obama administration warned Syria that such a move would trigger U.S. action. The administration took a big step in December by recognizing the leading Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The move, however, doesn't mean Washington will be arming them anytime soon.
Fiscal cliff – It's the combination of spending cuts and hikes in revenue that could bring the United States to its knees in the new year. And it's the microcosm of the ideological struggle that has brought Congress to its knees for the past two years. Will President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans come to a deal on whether to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2%? Or will the country go over the proverbial cliff?
Newtown school shooting – 20-year-old Adam Lanza's shooting rampage that killed 20 children, six elementary school employees, and his own mother in Connecticut mid-December shocked the nation. Like the movie theater shooting in Aurora earlier this year, the tragedy in Newtown reignited calls to reinstate the 1994 assualt weapons ban and add stricter gun controls. Days after the shooting, President Obama delivered a speech asking for Congress to vote on changing gun control measures in the new year. The NRA pushed back saying that arming teachers could have saved the childrens' lives.