A look back at the top political events of 2012

REUTERS: Jason Reed
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President Obama wins second term

The top political events of 2012 See gallery

President Barack Obama won his second and final bid for the White House on Nov. 6, defeating Mitt Romney in the nation’s most expensive presidential campaign. The economy and jobs loomed large in debates and political ads as the nation sputtered toward recovery from the recession.  Other popular topics of contention included health care, the nation’s debt and, a perennial favorite, taxes.  Despite the deluge of hard-hitting ads and 24/7 news coverage, only an estimated 58 percent of eligible voters chose to cast their ballots, which was down 4 percent from the 2008 election. Of those who voted, the most recent data showed that 50.9 percent chose Obama, while 47.4 percent chose Romney. The president won 27 states and the District of Columbia for a total of 332 electoral votes, while Romney won 24 states and 206 electoral votes. The two-term limit on U.S. presidents means plenty of political jockeying between now and 2016 for who will next sit in the Oval Office.

See more: Memes, gaffes and change in Election 2012

Read more: Which Obama pic scored one of the top Tweets of 2012?

AP Photo: Stephen Morton
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33,000 US troops withdraw from Afghanistan

Afghanistan, with its history of civil wars and foreign occupations, bid good-bye in September to the last of 33,000 U.S. “surge troops” who had arrived two years before. About 66,000 troops remained in the nation, which is slightly smaller in size than Texas, and beset by political instability and worries of rising violence. In February, deadly protests erupted after U.S. military personnel burned several copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. A month later, U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly went on a drunken rampage, killing 16 Afghan villagers, mostly women and children, adding further tension to strained U.S.-Afghan ties. President Obama has vowed to wind down the 11-year war, which has cost more than 2,000 U.S. military lives, but the unanswered question is how many U.S. troops will remain after 2014. 

Getty Images: Chip Somodevilla
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Secret Service prostitution scandal

When a Secret Service agent gave a prostitute $30 for a hotel-room visit in Cartegena, Colombia, instead of the $750 she had expected, the argument escalated into a hallway row involving local police and triggered a U.S. inquiry. Eleven agents had been sent to the coastal city in April in advance of President Obama attending the Summit of the Americas. The accusations of misconduct involving prostitution brought about Congressional inquiries and tarnished the agency’s reputation. A month later, the head of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, said there was no breach of national security. But the scandal led to the dismissal of two agents, the resignation of six, and the retirement of one. 

Getty Images: Alex Wong
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Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand President Obama’s overhaul of health care law, which requires that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. However, the court did limit the law’s expansion of Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor and disabled, saying that Congress had overreached its authority by forcing states into taking part by threatening to cut their federal payments. Nevertheless, the hotly contested Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was able to continue with its far-reaching changes.  Among all industrialized nations, the United States remains the only one that does not provide some version of universal health care.

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Scott Walker survives Wisconsin recall vote

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was elected in 2010, a Republican who urged austere fiscal efforts as an answer to the recession and debt. His efforts included cutting the collective bargaining rights for most public workers, a move that triggered massive protests outside the state Capitol in Madison. Unions and Democrats called it an attack on organized labor, while the GOP lauded his get-tough efforts. Walker easily won the recall election in June, 16 months after he took office. At the time, the battle was seen by many as a barometer for the presidential election that would come five months later, a forecast that did not pan out.

See more: Memes, gaffes and change in Election 2012

AP Photo: Jacquelyn Martin
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Obama halts deportation of young illegal immigrants

President Obama announced in June a plan to delay deportations for many illegal immigrants. To be eligible, applicants must have come to the United States before they turned 16, be 30 or younger, be high school graduates or in college, or have served in the military. The immigrants cannot have a serious criminal record. Successful applicants can avoid deportation for up to two years and get a work permit. The new policy, however, does not provide legal status for the immigrants. Homeland Security has estimated that more than 1 million immigrants could apply to avoid being deported in the program's first year. Last year, the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. dropped to an estimated 11.1 million from a peak of 12 million in 2007. For the first time since 1910, Hispanic immigration last year was topped by immigrants from Asia.

AP Photo: J. Scott Applewhite
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Bill Clinton steals the show at the Democratic National Convention

You can always count on the Big Dog to bring the crowd to its feet, and former President Bill Clinton did just that when he delivered a rousing nomination speech for President Barack Obama in September. The Obama campaign needed a boost after the president’s lackluster performance in his first debate with Mitt Romney. Clinton’s 45-minute speech proved to be just the jump-start the campaign needed. In his speech, Clinton rebutted Republican arguments made at the RNC convention, saying the nation was in better shape than four years earlier. “We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down,” Clinton said. The speech energized the Democratic base, and it not only showed that past differences between Obama and Clinton had been laid to rest, but cemented Clinton's reputation as the party's top 'explainer-in-chief.'

Watch:Bill Clinton's DNC speech

See more: Memes, gaffes and change in Election 2012

AP Photo: Sid Hastings
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Todd Akin discusses "legitimate rape"

Pro-life Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri showed a unique understanding of biology in August when he told a St. Louis TV station that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Democrats jumped on his comments as an example of the disconnect between the GOP and women’s issues — bolstering their “War on Women” narrative — but Akin claimed he merely used “the wrong words in the wrong way” and refused to end his bid for the Senate. Another would-be senator, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, claimed in an October debate that pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended.” Both lost their Senate elections.

MSN News: Joe Dyer
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Pot-smoking and gay marriage get voter approval in some states

Just say “yes.” Colorado, with its libertarian leanings, and Washington, with its liberal bent, voted to become the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, defying federal law. More than a decade ago, the two were among the first states to approve marijuana use for medical reasons, which is now allowed in 16 states and the District of Columbia. No word yet on whether federal authorities will sue to block the latest state efforts to decriminalize pot. Washington voters also approved same-sex marriage, along with Maine and Maryland – the first time it was passed at the ballot box. It was a huge twin for gay-rights advocates who’d seen similar efforts voted down 30 times previously. Same-sex couples can now marry in nine states and the District of Columbia, though in 30 state constitutions, marriage remains defined as being between a man and a woman.

Read more:See which states approved gay marriage

See more:As pot goes proper, a history of weed

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Gen. David Patraeus admits he 'screwed up royally'

The nation’s top spy chief, David Petraeus, resigned as head of the CIA on Nov. 9 after he was caught having an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The scandal raised the oft-debated issue of whether the romantic dalliances of a public figure should crater a storied career. As a four-star general who led the U.S. military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus had gained a formidable reputation, making him an easy choice in 2011 to head the CIA. But the scandal undercut his standing, and President Obama reluctantly accepted his resignation. The same FBI investigation that toppled Petraeus also ensnared Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who came under internal investigation for thousands of "inappropriate communications" with a Florida socialite over a two-year period.

AP Photo: Carolyn Kaster
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Congress faces the 'fiscal cliff'

After the November elections, the political sparring shifted to the ominous “fiscal cliff.” If Congress fails to act by Jan. 1, more than $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts will take effect, which could well lead to a recession and higher unemployment. The showdown between Democrats and Republicans involves both political maneuvering and public relations as each side jockeys to promote its solutions. The deadline came about from the Budget Control Act of 2011, another product of political gridlock, which still remained as the clock ticked just weeks from the deadline. Some lawmakers have argued that going over the cliff for a brief spell would ramp up the pressure for compromise.