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2012's top political stories historic and hysterical

By Candy Crowley, CNN Chief Political Correspondent
December 31, 2012 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
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. 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.
Rick Santorum wins Iowa
The War on Women's war over contraception
The War on Women: Sandra Fluke
Rep. Todd Akin and 'legitimate rape'
The Republican primary frontrunners
Attorney General Eric Holder held in contempt
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Obama administration immigration directive
The Supreme Court Arizona immigration decision
Movie theatre massacre in Colorado
Romney's overseas trip
Clint Eastwood's RNC appearance
President Bill Clinton's DNC speech
Deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi
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A new campaign: Big money
The first debate
Superstorm Sandy
Obama re-elected
Petraeus resigns
Redistricting claims some Republican seats
Women and minorities rise in Congress
Mormon moment
Syrian conflict
Fiscal cliff
Newtown school shooting
  • 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

The wild ride to Election Day
Top ten political moments of 2012
Media's 2012 report card

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 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.

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