Four years ago, Sarah Palin generated plenty of unforgettable moments on the campaign trail. Asked by CBS’s Katie Couric what she read to keep up on world events, she didn’t (or couldn’t) offer specifics, but noted Alaska isn’t some wilderness devoid of reading material.
Then there was Tina Fey. The “Saturday Night Live” alum returned to parrot the vice presidential candidate with one of the all-time great impressions. Fey looked and sounded so much like Palin that her act rocketed through pop culture. Fey had the “I can see Russia from my home” and “get mavericky” thing down, which didn’t help Palin’s efforts to show she was ready to be Veep.
Whether by a candidate or comedian, each campaign always adds something to political history that will be replayed for decades to come. No Fey-like act has emerged this year, but there's still been plenty of fodder for the archives.
Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was masterful, making the case for President Obama’s reelection better than Obama had done before or could after. Clinton was folksy, funny, credible and seemed like he was just engaging the American people in a conversation as a trusted adviser. Republicans seemed to acknowledge it was such a powerful polemic (or he was so popular) they didn’t bother attacking.
Clinton had many memorable lines. But the topper was his sardonic framing of the Republican case against Obama: “We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.” The zinger was brilliant for its simplicity, and it was tough to counter.
As he spoke and spoke, Clinton brought the word “arithmetic” into the vernacular. He offered all kinds of pro-Obama statistics that fact-checkers might have had an easy time debunking, but Clinton gave Obama huge momentum and pretty much accounted for the president's convention bounce himself.
In the weeks after, Obama continued to gain, especially after the emergence of what may be blamed most by Romney supporters if he's defeated: the 47% video. The footage shot at a fundraiser seemed to have Romney accusing almost half of Americans of being freeloaders.He said 47% are Obama supporters who are “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it … who pay no income tax.”
It wasn’t just the words in the video that hurt him. The way it was recorded made it appear as if Romney were engaged in a secret meeting with the superrich to plot how they could all get even wealthier.
Romney seemed cooked. The 47% speech to the 1% made it seem as if he had a 0% chance. But, then came the first debate, -- which should Romney win, should be at least part of the reason.
In front of a huge audience, the former Massachusetts governor came off as unusually relaxed. He appeared to actually have a sense of humor, starting with his joke about how President Obama probably couldn’t imagine a better way to spend his wedding anniversary than be “here with me.”
Whether achievable or not, Romney seemed to have a plan. He zeroed in on appealing issues: achieving energy independence, regaining an advantage versus China and helping small business. He seemed well-versed on these topics.
Romney's staff seemed to have settled on the word “crushed” to describe the plight of the middle class, and he used variations multiple times. The Big Bird line about cutting PBS funding was memorable (if sort of ludicrous), but comparing the level of government spending in the U.S. to that in Spain was powerful.
At one point, President Obama made a tough-to-believe point about a company getting a tax break for moving jobs overseas. Romney struck back well: “Look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant.”
In general, though, Romney spoke with energy and passion and conveyed a desire to lead the country. Of course, he was helped by Obama frequently being caught by the cameras looking down, adding to his general appearance of listlessness. It may not have been as bad as pundits portrayed it, but perception became reality.
It's rare when one candidate is declared the overwhelming winner in a debate. Romney was, in a move that may have allowed him to stay competitive until the end.
The first debate was also hard to forget because of moderator Jim Lehrer, who just could not project an air of being in control. Romney actually seemed to be the one determining who spoke when, and for how long.
Moderators in the ensuing debates were determined not to get Lehrer-ed, starting with ABC’s Martha Raddatz in the vice presidential standoff. “SNL” offered a good bit on that. As "Joe Biden" went after "Paul Ryan" in a skit, the woman playing Raddatz (Kate McKinnon) said:“Hey, do I sound like Jim Lehrer? And do I look like Jim Lehrer? Then don’t try to (bleep) with me like I’m Jim Lehrer.”
The next two debates didn’t offer much to speak of. Then, as Hurricane Sandy approached, “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory hinted it could be an “October surprise.” It was.
President Obama was determined to avoid the mistakes made by Presidents Bush I and II in reacting slowly to hurricanes. So, it appeared he kept offering New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie whatever he wanted as the Garden State was crushed by the storm
Christie had been a fierce Obama critic and Romney backer. And, yet there he was praising the president constantly and touring the damage with him, giving Obama a chance to appear presidential, empathetic and bipartisan days before the voting.
Christie said he was about getting things done and would work with anyone. It's a sad commentary he was even asked about the politics of the moment.