With all three debates concluded and two weeks left to go before the 2012 presidential election, voters can almost see the end of a race that officially began in the early months of 2011. From jumping into campaigns, making gaffes and winning arguments, here's a look at some of President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney's high and low points along the road leading to Nov. 6.
In April 2011, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney formed an exploratory committee, signaling his intent to enter the 2012 presidential race. In a video message, Romney outlined the economic challenges facing the U.S., saying President Obama's policies have failed.
"It's time that we put America back on the course of greatness, with a growing economy, good jobs and fiscal discipline in Washington," Romney said. "This effort isn't about a person. It's about the cause of American freedom and greatness."
>> In this April 2, 2011, file photo, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas.
On June 2, 2011, Romney entered the presidential race, saying that the United States is in peril. The U.S. gave someone new the chance to run the country in 2008, but it's now possible to judge the president by his record, and Obama has failed, Romney said.
"In the campaign to come, the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear and unapologetic defense, and I intend to make it because I have lived it," Romney said. "From my first day in office, my No. 1 job will be to see that America is again No. 1 in job creation."
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Romney's wife Ann said that she was the person who pushed Romney to enter the 2012 race after his failed 2008 run.
"Ann was convinced that I ought to run again," Romney said. "She said, 'look, no one else can beat President Obama. No one else has the background to actually get the economy going, understand the economy in a very fundamental way,' and she said 'you've got to run again,' and she pushed that for a long time."
>> Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to supporters after announcing his 2012 candidacy for president, Thursday, June 2, 2011, in Stratham, N.H.
During a Dec. 2011 Republican primary debate, Romney took issue with Texas Gov. Rick Perry's insistence that he had advocated for an individual mandate.
"I'll tell you what," Romney said during the debate, holding out his hand. "$10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet?"
"I'm not in the betting business," Perry answered.
Romney said after the debate, his wife told him, "A lot of things you do well—betting isn't one of them."
Romney's opponents sought to capitalize on the moment, The Washington Post reported the day after the debate, with Perry putting out a web video saying, "One bet you can count on . . . the truth isn't for sale," and Jon Huntsman buying the web address www.10kbet.com.
>> Republican presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney take part in the Republican debate, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Iowa held its first-in-the-nation presidential vote on Jan 3, 2012, in what was essentially a statewide straw poll where no delegates were at stake, ABC News reported in 2011.
The Iowa caucuses provide three specific tasks, according to The Washington Post: they winnow the field, deliver a wake-up call to complacent front-runners and serve as a catapult for candidacies.
Romney was said to have won the Iowa caucuses, with The New York Times reporting that Romney edged out Santorum by 8 ballots. However, the Iowa Republican Party later declared Santorum the winner of the Iowa caucuses, saying Santorum was 34 votes ahead of Romney.
>> Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.
As 2012 began, Romney was still locked in a primary battle with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum. Gingrich and Romney were neck-and-neck five days before the Florida primary, and Romney came out swinging in their Florida debate.
"On Thursday night Mitt Romney finally looked like a candidate who wants to win this election," ABC News' Amy Walter and Michael Falcone wrote after the debate. "On the debate stage Romney was confident and focused. More important, he was aggressive and disciplined, and never allowed his chief rival, Newt Gingrich, to get the upper hand."
Romney's eventual win in the Florida primary dealt a major setback to Gingrich and put Romney "back into a commanding position in the race for the Republican presidential nomination," The Washington Post said.
>> Republican presidential candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stand during the National Anthem in the Republican presidential candidates debate at the University of South Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012.
After months of campaigning, Romney hit the "magic number" in May 2012, gathering enough delegates to unofficially claim the Republican nomination for president.
In a primary battle of attrition, Romney outlasted more than eight other Republican challengers. By mid-May, Santorum and Gingrich had suspended their campaigns, while Paul said he would skip any remaining primaries and focus instead on winning delegates at state conventions.
"I am honored that Americans across the country have given their support to my candidacy and I am humbled to have won enough delegates to become the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee," Romney wrote after his Texas win. "I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us. But whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to full employment and prosperity."
>> Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Craig, Colo., Tuesday, May 29, 2012.
The Republican National Convention, held in Tampa, Fla., at the end of August, gave Romney the official Republican nomination and served as a way to introduce him to the nation.
"I am running for president to help create a better future. A future where everyone who wants a job can find one. Where no senior fears for the security of their retirement. An America where every parent knows that their child will get an education that leads them to a good job and a bright horizon," Romney said in his speech. "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
In addition to Romney's speech, the convention included moments meant to "humanize" the nominee, from the "moving biography" video clip to testimonials from Romney friends.
Ann Romney spoke in her national debut, aiming to make America understand the side of Romney that she knows and loves, Reuters wrote. Grant Bennett, a Romney friend, told about Romney's religious service while Pam Finlayson told of Romney's kindness to her family after her baby suffered a severe brain hemorrhage at three days old. Ted and Pat Oparowski told about the friendship between Romney and their son David, who had terminal cancer.
A Foreign Policy blog suggested that Romney's line about Obama's promise to heal the planet turned out to be the most controversial, with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff tweeting that his dismissiveness of global warming "was appalling."
>> Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to delegates after his speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.
In September, Mother Jones released a video from a private fundraiser. In the video, an audience member asked, "For the last three years, all everybody's been told is, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of you.' How are you going to do it, in two months before the election, to convince everybody you've got to take care of yourself?"
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney answered. "All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it—that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents."
Both Vice President Biden and Obama hit Romney over the remark, with Biden criticizing Romney during the vice presidential debate and Obama bringing it up during the second presidential debate.
In an interview on Fox News, Romney said his remark from the video was "just completely wrong," that he cares about 100 percent and that his whole campaign "is about the 100 percent."
Breitbart.com criticized Mother Jones after the magazine claimed to have released the full tape of the Romney fundraiser, pointing out that one to two minutes were missing during Romney's 47 percent answer. Mother Jones later said the recording device was inadvertently turned off for those missing minutes.
>> Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney bids farewell to the audience after campaigning at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Va, Saturday, September 8, 2012.
Romney entered the first presidential debate with news organizations saying the Denver meeting was a "do-or-die" moment for Romney's election hopes.
"(The debate) went from being important to being life-sustaining," GOP pollster Steve Lombardo told Politico. "Both from a fundraising perspective, to keep the money coming, and just a political perspective it's huge. Romney can't just do well and hold his own—he has to win and win decisively."
And win decisively he did.
During the debate, Bill Maher tweeted that Obama looked like he needed a teleprompter, while Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan said Obama may have lost the election because of the debate, the Deseret News reported.
"What was (Obama) doing tonight?" MSNBC's Chris Matthews said after the debate. "He went in there disarmed. He was like, I've got 90 minutes, and I'm just going to get through this thing, and I don't even look at this guy, where Romney—I loved the split screens—staring at Obama, addressing him, like the prey. He did it just right . . . What was Romney doing? He was winning."
A Huffington Post article showed wins for Romney in three different post-debate polls. A CNN poll gave him a 67-25 percent win over Obama. A CBS News poll gave him the win, 46 to 22 percent, while 56 percent had a better opinion of Romney, and his empathy score went from 30 percent to 63 percent. A Democracy Corps poll also gave Romney the win, 42 to 22 percent.
>> Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs his grand-daughter following the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.
Following his first debate—and even the second debate, which was either considered a win for Obama or a candidate tie—Romney saw a jump in support in polls across the U.S.
Sunday's Gallup daily presidential tracking poll put Romney up among registered voters, 49-46, as well as with likely voters, 52-45. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll now has him tied with Obama, 47 to 47 percent. A Rasmussen poll released Sunday shows Romney leading in 11 swing states, 50 to 46 percent, with 3 percent undecided. A Real Clear Politics average of polls has Romney ahead by .3, 47.3 to 47 percent.
The momentum is on the Republican side, Romney surrogates argued Sunday, while Romney picked up endorsements from the Columbus Dispatch, Tampa Tribune and Pittsburg Tribune-Review over the weekend.
>> Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign stop at Bun's Restaurant, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, in Delaware, Ohio.
President Barack Obama officially kicked off his 2012 reelection campaign on April 4, 2011 with an email and a video. The announcement allowed him to begin raising money for his bid, as well as hire staff for the campaign.
"I don't agree with Obama on everything," a man named Ed said in the video. "But I respect him and trust him."
"There are so many things that are still on the table that need to be addressed, and we want them to be addressed by President Obama," a woman named Gladys said.
"With the country's economic position improving, Obama can say his policies are working," Jeff Mays wrote on bvblackspin.com. "He can point to health care reform, efforts to reform this country's financial regulation, his international efforts and the fact that foreign leaders have more confidence in this country's leadership as proof that he deserves a second term."
>> President Barack Obama shakes hand with a group of supporters after a Miami fundraiser, Monday, June 13, 2011, where he launched his bid for reelection in Florida.
In April 2012, Buzzfeed reported on the president's reelection nerve center located in One Prudential Plaza in Chicago, saying the staffers had a confident attitude of "Game on," toward the November election.
"To say that the campaign doesn't fear Romney is an understatement—he's viewed as almost a joke," the Buzzfeed article said.
A genuine disdain for Romney got Obama's "head in the game," stoking his competitive fire, Politico journalist Glenn Thursh wrote in his ebook titled "Obama's Last Stand."
The Obama campaign would consist of three basic elements, Thrush wrote. It would build what Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called "the best ground operation in American political history," expand fundraising and messaging meant to highlight Obma's record and explain his plan for the second term while outlining the choice between himself and Romney.
In September 2012, Messina told The Huffington Post that even if Romney surges, "We're going to be OK."
>> In this Aug. 12, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama waves as he walks through his Hyde Park neighborhood to a campaign event in Chicago.
On May 1, 2011, President Obama went on television to announce that the U.S. had conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, nearly 10 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakisatan," Obama said. "A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body. For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achivement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda."
At a March 2012 fundraising event, Vice President Joe Biden said the decision to go after bin Laden was a decisive moment for Obama's presidency, The Hill reported.
"He said, 'Go,' knowing his presidency was on the line," Biden said. "Had he failed in that audacious mission, he would've been a one-term president."
The president's counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said the decision to go after bin Laden was a "gutsy call."
By giving the order to kill bin Laden, Obama neutralized the GOP on foreign policy, Alan Greenblatt wrote at NPR. The Democratic National Convention included a number of bin Laden mentions, with Biden using the phrase, "bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."
A group of former operations soldiers launched a media campaign accusing the president of wrongly taking credit for the mission that killed bin Laden, ABC News reported in August 2012. Their message to the president is that, "The work that the American military has done killed Osama bin Laden. You did not."
>> In this May 1, 2011 image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to obscure the details of a document in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington.
In May 2012, the Obama campaign released an online slideshow titled, "The Life of Julia," which follows a fictional girl named Julia from childhood to adulthood, showing how Obama policies help her throughout her life.
The first slide says that at three years old, "Julie is enrolled in a Head Start program to help get her ready for school. Because of steps President Obama has taken to improve programs like this one, Julia joins thousands of students across the country who will start kindergarten ready to learn and succeed."
Under Mitt Romney, the slide says, "The Romney/Ryan budget could cut programs like Head Start by 20%, meaning the program would offer 200,000 fewer slots per year."
The slideshow drew mockery from some, and gave birth to Life of Julia parodies online. The Atlantic said Julia's easy-to-manipulate Web graphic, oversimplified narrative and focus on political hot spots meant the slideshow was "made to be mocked."
In July 2012, while speaking to a crowd in Roanoke, Va., President Obama uttered four words that became a rallying cry for Republicans: "You didn't build that."
"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me—because they want to give something back," Obama said in his remarks. "They know they didn’t—look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
Obama later said he regretted his syntax, but not the point he was making, ABC News reported.
>> In this July 13, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va.
According to opensecrets.org, the Obama campaign has raised more than $555 million for the president's reelection effort. However, the fundraising hasn't come without a price.
Obama fundraising emails have drawn mockery online, with The New York Times' Michael Shear writing in August 2012 that each plea for money "has become more urgent and desperate than the last."
Gawker chronicled the "aggressive blitz," keeping track of each email and text message that contained "cutesy variations of, 'So how bout those dumb Republicans, eh? Want to have dinner? Give us money right now.'" The email subject lines ranged from things like, "If I don't call you," to "Can we meet for dinner?"
The Hairpin, a women's website, posted an article in May containing "subject lines of Obama campaign emails that sound like a stalker wrote them." The subject lines included messages like, "Do you still live in Illinois?" "Sometime soon, can we meet for dinner?" "Last chance at dinner." "It doesn't need to be this way." "It's officially over" and "(I tried.)"
>> President Barack Obama, right, has dinner with winners of a campaign fundraising contest, at Smith Commons Dining Room and Public House in Washington, on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. From left are Joe Laliberte, of Colorado Springs, Colo., Deidra Orosa, and her husband Mario Orosa, of North Canton, Ohio.
On Sept. 6, Obama accepted the nomination for president of the United States at the Democratic National Convention, giving a speech pundits called, "workman-like," "clear-eyed" and "earthbound."
"When you picked up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation," Obama said. "Over the next few years big decisions will be made in Washington on jobs, the economy, taxes and deficits, energy, education, war and peace—decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and on our children's lives for decades to come. And on every issue, the choice you face won't just be between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America, a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."
The president's vision for America, as outlined in the speech, centers on five goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit. In his speech, John Dickerson wrote at Slate, the president was asking for patience in a noble struggle.
"When Obama built to a crescendo, the cheers exploded," Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo tweeted at the time. "A workman-like speech for a master speaker, but it lacked Clinton's magic."
>> President Barack Obama and his daughter Malia wave after President Obama's speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. Behind them are Sasha and first lady Michelle Obama.
Obama's face-to-face meeting with Romney at the first of three presidential debates didn't go well for the president, as pundits criticized his debate strategy as one of "unilateral disarmament" and called him "slightly out of his depth."
A Slate roundup of media reactions after the debate quoted The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza as saying Obama got on the wrong side of the "fine line between sober/serious and grim/uninterested," while The Chicago Tribune called Obama "that guy at the meeting who's surreptitiously checking his email."
Obama failed to go after Romney for his 47 percent remark and Bain Capital, despite the fact that his campaign had been hammering Romney on those two issues for months, critics said.
Toby Harnden of Britain's The Daily Mail reported that Obama did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored advice and one-liners mean to wound Romney and walked off the debate stage thinking he'd won
>> President Barack Obama shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.
On Oct. 5, the president was handed a gift in the form of better jobs numbers as the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September—its lowest level since 2009.
Part of the growth came from a surge in the number of people taking part-time jobs because full-time jobs weren't available, an analysis of the numbers showed. Either way, the president was quick to bring up the numbers on the campaign trail, saying that U.S. businesses had added 5.2 million new jobs over the past 2 ½ years.
The jobless rate drop delivered a jolt to the presidential campaign, a New York Times article suggested, while threatening the central argument of Romney's candidacy.
Jack Welch, a former CEO of General Electric, criticized the numbers after they were released, saying "these Chicago guys will do anything . . . can't debate so change numbers." He wrote at The Wall Street Journal that he was raising a question in that tweet, not making an accusation. He argued, though, that the 7.8 percent figure was "downright implausible" because the economy would need to be growing at "breakneck speed" for the unemployment numbers to drop from 8.3 to 7.8 percent in the course of two months.
At the annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner and roast, Obama joked about the numbers, saying, "Of course, the economy's on everybody's mind. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office . . . I don't have a joke here—I just thought it'd be useful to remind everybody."
>> President Barack Obama speaks at the Archdiocese of New York's 67th Annual Alfred. E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
Looking to regain some momentum lost after the first presidential debate, Obama entered the second one with more energy, walking away with a close win over his Republican challenger.
During the debate, Obama hit Romney over jobs, energy and Libya, and also brought up the 47-percent remark he failed to mention in the first debate. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released after the debate showed that 48 percent of registered voters gave the debate win to Obama, while 33 percent gave it to Romney.
An ABC News analysis of the debate said that Obama's job was to "rev up his flagging base and convince waverig supporters that he actuallyw ants another term." His aggressive performance, the ABC article said, did just that. However, the article cautioned, the Obama win in the second debate didn't have the power to upend the race the way Romney's win at the first debate did.
Obama joked about his debate performance at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner and roast, saying he had more energy in the second debate because he was so well rested from the "nice long nap" he took during the first one.
>> President Barack Obama, speaks, during the presidential debate with Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, not seen, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.