(The Root) — After nearly two years of campaigning, billions of dollar spent and thousands of hours of TV ads, the 2012 presidential election came down to just one night and nine swing states. But what, ultimately, made the difference between who won and who lost? Below is a look at the eight people and things most responsible for giving Barack Obama a second term in office.
1. First Lady Michelle Obama
Her bumpy introduction to the American people on the campaign trail four years ago is a distant memory now. She has spent much of her husband’s first term being much more popular than he — or anyone else in politics — is. Her speech at the Democratic National Convention, which was considered one of the week’s best (even better than the commander in chief’s), confirmed what the president said in his victory speech on election night: that just as he fell in love with her 20 years ago, America has fallen in love with Michelle Obama, too.
2. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, aka the Republican Rape Jokers
If there are two people to whom Democrats should send the world’s biggest thank-you bouquets, they are Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, because if it weren’t for these two geniuses, the GOP would likely control the Senate next year. When asked for his opinion on whether abortion should be allowed for rape survivors, Akin replied, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin had been leading his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, in a race that many expected Republicans to win. Akin’s comments, however, received national attention and ended up hurting not only his campaign but also the campaigns of many Republicans running this year, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney’s newly selected running mate, Paul Ryan, was asked to weigh in, and while he and Romney disagreed with the offensive delivery of Akin’s remarks, the controversy cast a spotlight on the fact that Ryan opposed abortion, even in the case of rape and incest, the same position held by Akin.
Months later, after the Romney campaign had finally begun to close the gap with female voters (thanks in large part to his performance in the first presidential debate), Mourdock said in an Indiana Senate debate, “And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.“ Within days he began to free-fall in the polls, taking Romney’s newfound momentum with him.
Romney had the misfortune to have recently endorsed and filmed an ad for Mourdock. Though he denounced the remarks, Romney declined to pull the campaign ad, a move that he may now be rethinking as he reflects on his loss, particularly since President Obama won the election in part because of a double-digit advantage with female voters.
3. Brown Voters
In an interview with The Root, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) expressed concern over strict voter-identification laws, spearheaded primarily by Republicans after President Obama’s historic 2008 win, which was powered by a coalition of nearly 5 million new voters of color. He worried that the laws could jeopardize President Obama’s re-election if they resulted in a decrease of 2 to 5 percent of the black vote. He needn’t have worried.