By Patrick Kevin Day, Joseph A. Kapsch, Stephanie Lysaght, Todd Martens, Denise Martin and Jevon Phillips, Times Staff Writers
The presidential campaign sure has been a long, strange trip full of lots of highs and lows. It’s almost hard to fathom that just months ago most Americans had never even heard the name Sarah Palin.
And Palin is hardly the only overnight phenom to emerge from this race to the White House. The cast of characters includes Gayle Quinnell, a.k.a. “crazy McCain lady”; Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. Joe the Plumber; and many more.
In this retrospective, we take a look back at some of the best speeches, worst gaffes and biggest shockers of this election season. (Peter Foley / EPA)
Hillary’s New Hampshire comeback
After a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was being counted out by some pundits. While on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Clinton choked up on camera while discussing her run for the White House. “I just don’t want to see us fall backwards,” she said. Polls had Sen. Barack Obama leading the state, but Clinton managed a comeback that revitalized her campaign. In her acceptance speech that evening, Clinton told supporters, “Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice.” (Elise Amendola / Associated Press)
Forget the Obama-McCain debates or the Biden-Palin debate. The real debate fireworks this election season took place between Democratic Party rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. Take, for example, the Democratic candidates’ debate in South Carolina, where Obama chided Clinton for being a lawyer on the board of Wal-Mart at the same time he had worked as a community organizer, while she accused him of consorting with Chicago donor and alleged “slumlord” Tony Rezko. (Matt Campbell / EPA)
Bill Clinton’s Barack Obama-Jesse Jackson comparison
With the inference of racial politics in the foreground, Obama responded on “ABC’s This Week” to Clinton’s remarks, and didn’t seem at all discouraged by the comparisons. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
Rudy Giuliani’s Florida gamble
Many called his political strategy risky, but when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shunned campaigning all out in Iowa, New Hampshire, MichiganNevada or South Carolina to focus on Florida, most knew it was a do-or-die act.
His standings in the polls slipped as Sen. John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee passed Giuliani by, and his campaign never regained momentum after the loss. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Clinton’s tale of Bosnia sniper fire
Sen. Hillary Clinton came under fire (no pun intended) after CBS aired footage that contradicted her dramatic tale of a 1996 arrival in Bosnia. During a foreign policy speech at George Washington University, Clinton recalled, “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” The unearthed video of the trip resulted in Clinton saying she “misspoke.” (Getty Images)
Who could forget Barack Obama’s “bitter” comments, heard around the world?
During a private fundraiser in San Francisco, Obama was caught on tape suggesting that small-town Americans are bitter about economic conditions and that’s why they “cling to guns and religion.” Hillary Clinton seized the opportunity to paint Obama as “elitist” and “out of touch” with middle-class America. Obama apologized for the comments, saying his words were “ill chosen.” However, the Clinton campaign stoked the controversy, using it to its advantage while campaigning for the Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana primaries. (Pictured left: both candidates at the Compassion Forum, where each addressed the issue.) (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Republican candidates are always at a bit of a loss when it comes to harnessing Hollywood’s star power for their campaigns. While John McCain had Jon Voight, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Obama had a whole roster of stars to attend his rallies and get out the vote. Which is why former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee must have thanked his lucky stars when Chuck Norris signed on to help promote his campaign during the primaries. The former pastor and the beloved martial arts movie star were so simpatico that some in the media melded them a la Brangelina. Unfortunately, even the power of Chuck wasn’t enough to propel Huckabee on to the GOP nomination. But there’s always 2012, and as those who read “Chuck Norris Facts” know by know, Chuck Norris doesn’t campaign, he decides for you. (Pat Sullivan / Associated Press)
McCain gets BarackRolld
Another reason to give it up for Rick Astley: The vision of Barack Obama punking John McCain to the sounds of Never Gonna Give You Up at the Republican National Convention. Cindy McCain and the Palin children go wild. (Shawn Thew / EPA)
Dennis Kucinich’s UFO sighting
Already an outside candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio may have helped sink his campaign a bit when he acknowledged seeing a UFO. The sighting was mentioned in a book by Shirley MacLaine, and Kucinich later joked about it, saying that he might move his campaign to Roswell, N.M. Kucinich defended himself and stuck by his words.
“You have to keep in mind that more ... that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than I think approve of George Bush’s presidency,” Kucinich said. (Ron Edmonds / Associated Press)
Clinton’s long goodbye: “18 million cracks”
Hillary Clinton vowed to keep fighting and stay in the race until the last vote was counted on June 3. Barack Obama finally racked up the necessary number of delegates to become the presumptive nominee, but Clinton took a few days before the suspension of her campaign. She bowed out at a Washington, D.C., rally where she thanked supporters and officially endorsed Obama for president. During the speech is when Clinton first declared that even though she didn’t shatter the highest glass ceiling, there were now “18 million cracks in it.” ()
The world meets Sarah Palin: hockey mom, pit bull, vice presidential candidate
The Alaska governor came out with guns blazing in September when Sen. John McCain introduced her as his running mate at the Republican National Convention. Even left-leaners had to acknowledge that the woman nicknamed Sarah Barracuda in high school was, well, fierce. “I accept the challenge of a tough fight,” she told the crowd. You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.” (Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg News)
Both candidates kept us waiting. First was Barack Obama and his newfangled text message to the masses. John Kerry e-mailed his choice of John Edwards in 2004 to supporters, so it wasn’t that new.
Joe Biden had been one to watch -- experienced and hard-nosed. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, was not one who was watched. A left-field choice that baffled even John McCain supporters, she both energized and polarized the Republican bid for the presidency. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe malfunction
When Sarah Palin was thrust into the national arena, she needed some smart outfits to prepare her for all that scrutiny. But $150,000 worth?
Republican National Committee reports stated that the Palin family got $150,000 worth of clothing, but Palin told the Chicago Tribune, I don’t think it was anywhere near.... What did they say ... 150 grand? It wasn’t anywhere near that.
Palins alleged exorbitant fashion expenditures raised quite a few eyebrows, especially in light of her folksy, working-mother persona. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Joe the Plumber takes center stage
It all started during a campaign stop to Holland, Ohio, when Barack Obama discussed his tax policy with a plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher. Since then, Joe the Plumber has come to stand for the everyman, a hard-working American with lofty aspirations. Both candidates claimed that they would better serve Joe and his ilk, and they invoked his name more than two dozen times during their debate in Hempstead, N.Y. (Jason Werling / Associated Press)
John McCain snubs David Letterman
Sen. John McCain was scheduled to appear on Late Show With David Letterman on Sept. 24 but backed out at the last minute, saying he had suspended his campaign to focus on the financial crisis. Then, instead of high-tailing it to Washington, McCain sat down for an interview with CBS’ Katie Couric.
Letterman was none too happy with the abandonment, and he poked fun at McCain for days on end. I feel like an ugly date, Letterman joked. I feel used. I feel cheap. I feel sullied. Three weeks later, McCain appeared on Lettermans show. (J.P. Filo / Associated Press)
Elisabeth Hasselbeck stumps for Palin
After several contentious mornings on The View, word spread that conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck would be leaving for her own show on Fox News. She later denied the reports on-air, but it came as no surprise when news broke that she would be campaigning for Palin in Florida. Talking to the crowd, she said: Let me be honest, I was pretty much excited to be able to talk for a full five minutes without getting interrupted, she said.
And, at the very least, Hasselbeck was able to address the charges that Palins wardrobe was costing the campaign a pretty penny. Instead of the issues, [the media are] focused, fixated, on her wardrobe.... This is deliberately sexist. Palin took the stage a moment later to say: Those clothes? Theyre not my property. Im not taking them with me. Im back to wearing my own clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska. (Joe Burbank / Associated Press)
Lipstick on a pig: What did Barack Obama really mean?
During her convention speech, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin famously quipped, “You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”
Later, during a Virginia campaign stop, Barack Obama said of John McCains policies, That’s not change. That’s just calling something the same thing something different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You know you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it’s still going to stink after eight years. We’ve had enough of the same old thing.”
Republicans insisted that Obamas remarks were directed at Palin, even though McCain himself had used the common phrase just a year earlier in reference to one of Hillary Clinton‘s policies. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)
Producers of the video and the actress-model have said that it was all done in fun, and Barack Obama did not denounce the video, saying only that it was another creation by “the fertile minds on the Internet.” His kids, though, were a little disturbed. (YouTube.com)
Hillary Clintons late-night phone call ad
Never mind the John McCain-versus- Barack Obama battle. The bout between Obama and Hillary Clinton was just as heated, if not more so. Evidence? Clintons now famous late-night phone call advertisement. Remember this? Its 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep.... Something is happening in the world.... Its 3 and your children are safe and asleep.... Who do you want answering the phone? (Screen shot: YouTube)
Obama turns lemons into A More Perfect Union
Barack Obamas former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., was thrust into the spotlight during the run-up to the election, after a video surfaced in which he declared, God damn America. This and other controversial statements from Wright could have thrown a wrench in Obamas campaign.
But instead of buckling under the pressure of public scrutiny of his personal relationships, Obama used the Wright controversy as a chance to promote racial unity in his stirring A More Perfect Union speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Steven Spielbergs video tribute to U.S. veterans
Spielberg created a short and poignant film that was a centerpiece of this summer’s Democratic National Convention. The famed director interviewed veterans of multiple wars and touched on an array of lifestyles and issues in a matter of minutes.
Unlike most of these sorts of tributes, Spielbergs film wasnt lacking in details (a pan of houses with service flags hanging out front, a shot of empty boots and uniforms from fallen soldiers) and an ever-so-slight hint at the deeper concern -- the quality of care and service being provided to our vets upon their return from the front lines. (Reed Saxon / Associated Press)
John Richs Raisin McCain performance
Will the election come and go without a standout song? One of the more upbeat offerings came from John Rich, who performed this ditty without his other half, Big. It’s certainly more kickin’ than Dave Stewart’s Obama ode, American Prayer, even if Rich’s Raisin McCain goes for silly over inspiration.
Where any song with the word Vietnam probably has an uphill battle, one must note that the sleek, arrow-shaped Yee Haw guitar is kinda cool. (Ron Edmonds / Associated Press)
The co-founder of the Weather Underground, the radical antiwar movement that bombed a series of public buildings in the 1960s and ‘70s, had been living a relatively low-profile life as a university professor in Chicago when his name was put back in the spotlight through his connection to Barack Obama. The two lived in the same Chicago neighborhood and worked together on a school reform board. Though Obama has condemned Ayers’ actions of the past, Ayers has kept mum about Obama. (Associated Press)
Will.I.Ams Yes We Can video
It’s not quite a song, and not quite a speech, but will.i.am made an early splash with his celeb-packed viral video, which featured the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Common, Herbie Hancock, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Legend, among many others, echoing the words of a speech from Barack Obama at the New Hampshire primary in January. The video won an Emmy Award for best new approaches in daytime entertainment. (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times)
Harriet Christian: A YouTube star is born?
The fate of Florida’s and Michigan‘s primary votes hung in the balance until the Democratic National Committee’s rules committee convened to determine how the delegates would be counted. The hearing drew fiercely loyal supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. One in particular, a New Yorker named Harriet Christian, became an overnight YouTube hit after she blasted the outcome of the hearing. In the video, Clinton supporter Christian vowed that John McCain would be the next president. “The Democrats are throwing the election away. For what? An inadequate black male,” she yelled. Subsequent pro- and anti-Harriet videos followed in response. Seeing an opportunity, Fox News scooped up Christian as a contributor during the Democratic National Convention. ()
Gayle Quinnell’s media moment
It was late in the campaign when Gayle Quinnell stood up at a rally for John McCain in Minnesota and said Barack Obama was “an Arab.” McCain quickly swooped in, corrected her and said that Obama was “a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” The media pounced on the moment, and Quinnell was even parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” Here, Quinnell’s daughter talks about the incident.(Associated Press)