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Looking Back on 2012 Cycle's Long and Winding Road

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Wow, what a political cycle. It was filled with twists, turns and surprises.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses — until he didn’t (almost two weeks after the actual balloting, when former Sen. Rick Santorum was certified as the winner).

After finishing a distant fourth in Iowa and an even more distant fifth in New Hampshire, former Speaker Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary convincingly and briefly looked like a very serious contender for his party’s nomination. Then the Romney campaign obliterated him.

And eventually, the race for the GOP nomination boiled down to a duel between Romney and Santorum (Rick Santorum!), with Illinois’ late March primary and Wisconsin’s early April primary turning out to be the decisive contests.

The Republican race was a roller-coaster ride for Romney and for political handicappers, who saw a party that didn’t really want to nominate the former Massachusetts governor but didn’t have a serious alternative.

As I expected, some of the political commentary and analysis during the presidential cycle proved to be misguided or meaningless.

All the coverage of the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll was a waste of time, since the winner of that non-event, Rep. Michele Bachmann, finished sixth in the 2012 caucuses — ahead only of those Republicans who didn’t actively participate.

The suffocating attention focused on Romney’s selection of a running mate was largely meaningless, politically that is. Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan had no effect on the results of Nov. 6.

All of the chatter about the president replacing Joseph R. Biden Jr. with Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate was foolish, as was the speculation about a “white knight” riding into the GOP race to give Republicans a stronger nominee for the fall. And Clint Eastwood’s shtick in Tampa, Fla., had no effect on the election’s outcome.

But some events and outcomes certainly surprised me or proved me wrong.

I assumed the national party conventions would have little effect on swing voters. So I didn’t anticipate the impact of Bill Clinton telling a national television audience that since even he couldn’t have fixed the economy in a mere four years, certainly President Barack Obama couldn’t have been expected to pull off that miracle.

I expected the last three jobs numbers (those reported the first week of September, October and November) to have significant impact on the general election. They did not. Instead, the August numbers were overshadowed by the Democratic convention, while the September numbers were overshadowed by Obama’s abysmal first debate performance, which I also did not expect.

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