Big Bird, Etch A Sketch and Clint Eastwood addressing an empty chair.
All were memorable moments of the contentious 2012 presidential election, the top story of 2012 as decided by the Northwest Herald editorial staff. For 10 months, few things dominated daily discussions like the race of who would be in the White House for the next four years.
And it wasn’t just because of the flashpoint moments such as those mentioned above: The race revealed the ugly political divide pushing the political parties further to the left or right.
From mass shootings that broke our hearts to storms that left billions of dollars of damage in their wake, here is the Northwest Herald’s list of the top 10 most newsworthy events of 2012.
1. The presidential election
The 2012 presidential campaign was the most expensive to date, with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spending more than $1 billion each to get their respective messages out.
It was the campaign that found Romney dissing 47 percent of the country’s population on government assistance, Obama claiming that entrepreneurs did not build their own businesses, Newt Gingrich sharing a vision to colonize the moon, and any number of pot-stirring comments coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth.
But while the numerous tactical gaffes might have provided fodder for the online water cooler of social media, the campaign also highlighted how bitterly divided the country is ideologically.Both parties tried to cater to either the far left or right in hopes of securing votes.
It culminated in Obama’s decisive, Nov. 6 victory.
2. Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary leaves 28 dead
The Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., ripped the country’s heart out after a gunman killed his mother at their home, then forced his way into the school and killed 26 – including 20 children – before taking his own life.
As the nation continues to mourn and questions remain as to why the 20-year-old targeted the school, the tragedy led Obama to demand proposals by January to reduce gun violence.
3. Aurora, Colo., shooting hits home
Movie theaters became another place Americans felt less safe after the July 20 shooting at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo.
Among the 12 killed was John Larimer, 27, a 2003 Crystal Lake South High School graduate who was in the Navy. He died as he shielded his girlfriend. Cary native Steven Ostergaard was chaperoning a group in a different theater and rushed an injured teen to medical attention.
The shooter is facing 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.
4. Supreme Court upholds Obamacare
Obama’s health care reform law was immediately branded by opponents as unconstitutional after it was signed into law in March 2010.
A number of lawsuits were filed; of particular ire was the individual mandate, which requires Americans of means to purchase health insurance by 2014, and penalizes those who don’t.
After oral arguments in March, the Supreme Court announced June 28 that it ruled, 5-4, to uphold the constitutionality of most of the act.
5. Storms ravage the country
In what’s becoming a familiar pattern, severe weather killed hundreds and left massive destruction in its wake yet again in 2012.
From March 2 to 3, at least 70 tornadoes stormed across nine states, killing more than 40 people.
On Oct. 29, superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, leaving almost 200 dead in multiple countries.
In both events, millions were left without power and the storms left behind billions of dollars in damage. Rebuilding efforts are ongoing.
6. County, state and nation in grips of drought
The year saw what the U.S. Agriculture Department called the “most severe and extensive drought” in a quarter-century.
The hot, humid weather dried up crops and profits for the nation’s farmers. McHenry County was among thousands of counties given a drought disaster declaration by the USDA.
The drought led to an increase in the farm prices of corn, soybeans and other crops, according to the USDA. Retail food prices are expected to be affected in 2013.
7. ‘Fiscal cliff’
Falling off the “fiscal cliff” – a combination of anywhere from $500 billion to $700 billion in federal spending cuts and tax increases that take effect Jan. 1 – became a possibility as the year drew to a close.
With some experts warning that the lack of a deal could plunge the country into another recession, Democrats and Republicans initially refused to budge on a compromise.
But both sides have been trading proposals as December sped by and stated hopes that a deal could be reached before the new year.
8. State’s finances get worse
As has become common, lawmakers did little to address the state’s dismal finances.
The unfunded pension liability grew from $85 billion in January to $94 billion by December. Standard & Poor’s cut the state’s credit level; only California has a weaker rating. The stack of unpaid bills continues to grow.
Gov. Pat Quinn said he wants a pension solution by Jan. 9. A pension reform proposal is waiting for lawmakers in the lame-duck session that starts Thursday.
9. Ambassador killed in Libya attack
The 11th anniversary of Sept. 11 was darkened by the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others, who were killed in an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The attack initially was linked to protests in Cairo that started over an American-made anti-Islamic film.
Officials later said it was a militant attack.
A report issued Dec. 18 blamed leadership failures for the lack of security at the mission, prompting three State Department officials to step down.
10. War claims county resident
For the seventh time in the past decade, conflicts overseas claimed a local resident.
Marine Capt. Nathan R. McHone, 29, of Crystal Lake, was one of six who died Jan. 19 in a helicopter crash in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Thousands turned out to pay their respects to McHone, a 2001 Crystal Lake South graduate.
He was the fourth person from McHenry County to be killed while serving in Afghanistan; three others have been killed in Iraq.