2012’s top political stories historic and hysterical

Published 7:32 AM EST, Mon December 31, 2012

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

Washington CNN —  

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.

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 th