2012's top political stories historic and hysterical

Story highlights

  • A fair number of political moments in 2012 ranged from ridiculous to inexplicable
  • But in an election year, the top stories are the obvious ones
  • Some of the top stories were small pieces in what determined the 2012 election
  • Others were those that portend what might happen down the road

Picking the top 10 moments of an election year is like finding your favorite grain of sand on the beach -- there is an impossible number of possibilities.

Take catchphrases that became boomerangs -- President Barack Obama's "If you've got a business, you didn't build that." Or GOP challenger Mitt Romney's "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

Or when cast members stole the spotlight: Sandra Fluke's telling House Democrats that "I'm an American woman who uses contraception. Let's start there." Or Romney's top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom telling CNN, "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."

And a fair number of moments ranging from ridiculous to inexplicable:

Clint Eastwood challenging an empty chair at the Republican National Convention: "I'm not going to shut up, it's my turn." Or Obama trying make "Romnesia" a buzzword. Or Romney attempting to do the same with "Obamaloney."

So many moments; so much nonsense.

But there were game-changers, too -- moments that shook up the race, made history and made our Top 10 list.

10. Wisconsin recall vote

It was seen at the time as a proxy race for November. Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker was in a showdown with organized labor over budget cuts and collective bargaining power. Turns out the end result was no bellwether for the presidential election. Walker won, the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.

The wild ride to Election Day
The wild ride to Election Day


    The wild ride to Election Day


The wild ride to Election Day 04:11
Top ten political moments of 2012
Top ten political moments of 2012


    Top ten political moments of 2012


Top ten political moments of 2012 04:58
Media's 2012 report card
Media's 2012 report card


    Media's 2012 report card


Media's 2012 report card 10:12

9. Chris Christie's praise for Obama

Republican Gov. Chris Christie's full-on embrace of Obama for helping Superstorm Sandy-ravaged New Jersey came days before the election and had no noticeable effect on the presidential race. But some Republicans think Christie didn't have to be that effusive. And they'll remember if his name pops up in 2016.

8. 'Legitimate rape'

From the "Say what?" category comes a combo team -- Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock of Indiana.

Akin in an interview cited some questionable biology: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Mourdock cited a higher power: "Life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen."

Republican dreams to take control of the Senate dwindled throughout the year, but Akin and Murdock, who both lost, pretty much shut that door in a couple of sentences.

7. Self-deportation

Two words from Mitt Romney during the primary reverberated all the way through to November -- the issue was his plan to keep employers from hiring undocumented workers:

"People who have come here illegally won't be able to find work. And over time, those people would tend to leave the country, or self-deport," he said during a debate in Florida.

The concept of self-deportation by undocumented workers was not by itself responsible for Romney's dismal showing among Hispanics, but it surely greased the skids.

6. The '47 percent'

Also in the category of moments for which you could get a mulligan, there was Romney secretly taped at a Boca Raton, Florida, fundraiser saying, "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims."

Romney later called his remarks completely wrong. They also caused the deepest self-inflicted wound of the election.

5. Romney picks Ryan as running mate

On the flip side, Romney's VP day may well have been the best moment of his campaign -- the selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan excited conservatives in a way Romney himself had not.

4. Obama blows first debate

How many moments are there in an hour and a half? The president lost all of them in the first debate.

The pictures tell the story of a man who phoned it in, panicking his supporters and providing an opening for Romney.

3. Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

A Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act -- if that doesn't strike you as political, consider what would have happened on the campaign trail if the high court had struck down the president's signature first-term achievement.

2. Obama endorses same-sex marriage

The first president to endorse same sex-marriage was a daily double moment: good politics aimed at an activist wing of his party base, and most certainly history.

1. Obama wins re-election

The number one political moment of the year is easy during elections.

For auld lang syne, cue the confetti and say goodbye to 2012 and all its moments -- historical ... and hysterical.

      Election 2012

    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      Obama makes history, again

      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      Five things we learned

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    • Demanding more from second term

      Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
    • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      Victorious Obama faces challenges

      The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
    • GOP retains grip on House

      Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.