It is pretty clear that the most consequential political moment of 2010 came on Nov. 2 when Republicans picked up 63 House seats and majority status in the House for the upcoming 112th Congress. But aside from the climactic electoral outcome, there were significant political moments along the way that spoke to the larger truths at play in politics throughout 2010.
In chronological order, here’s our list of the 10 great political moments of 2010. Below the last entry, you can cast a vote for your favorite moment:
Scott Brown Wins Ted Kennedy’s Senate Seat
Republican Scott Brown’s come-from-behind victory in Massachusetts’ January special election to fill the remainder of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s term was an early signal that Democrats, even in territory normally considered safe, were in serious electoral danger.
POTUS vs. SCOTUS
President Obama used no less a high-profile venue than his State of the Union address to publicly scold the Supreme Court, a coequal branch of the federal government, for its ruling in the Citizens United case. The ruling paved the way for unlimited political contributions from corporations and unions to flow into independent campaign advertising expressly advocating for the defeat or election of a particular candidate. Some members of the high court took umbrage at the president’s public rebuke and attendance among the justices will, no doubt, be closely watched at the next State of the Union. Although the ultimate impact from that court decision on the 2010 elections remains unclear, President Obama’s shining of the spotlight on outside money in January foreshadowed his constantly calling attention to it in the heat of the fall campaign.
Obama vs. House Republicans
After Scott Brown’s victory caused him to lose his supermajority in the United States Senate, President Obama attempted to reopen the bipartisan lines of communication. In late January, the president addressed the House Republican Conference at a Baltimore retreat, which created some pretty compelling made-for-television moments. The unscripted give-and-take between President Obama and House Republicans grew pointed at times. Despite pleas from both sides to find some common ground and work together, deep partisan divisions persisted and hardened throughout the election year.
Biden Calls Health Care a ‘BFD’
Vice President Biden has made a name for himself for speaking his mind without always remembering to filter those thoughts for public consumption. When President Obama took to the East Room of the White House to sign the health care reform bill into law, a major policy initiative achieved after a steep uphill political climb, Vice President Biden was caught on an open microphone using an expletive while describing the moment as a big deal. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs immediately tweeted his approval of Mr. Biden’s remarks and the Democratic National Committee began selling “Health Reform is a BFD” T-shirts to raise money off of the gaffe.
Charlie Crist Bolts the GOP
As the conservative grassroots activists inside the Republican primary electorate continued to flex their muscles in races across the country, Florida’s Senate race became the shining example of what was emerging as a major dynamic of the 2010 election season. In April, Gov. Charlie Crist came to the conclusion that there was no way he would be able to beat former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in a Republican primary and opted to run as independent. Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party, went on to win the Senate seat and will be sworn in on Jan. 5.
Party-Switcher Arlen Specter Loses Primary
Incumbents beware! That was the message that came out of the May 18 Pennsylvania primary.. Arlen Specter, who had long represented the state in the Senate as a Republican, changed his party affiliation in 2009 to join the Democrats once it became clear he had no chance of winning a GOP primary. In exchange for his party switch, which helped propel Democrats to a supermajority of 60 in the Senate for much of 2009, President Obama and Vice President Biden pledged their support and campaigned for Specter in his battle for the Democratic nomination. The party switch aimed at political survival not only failed, but was significantly used against him by Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, who defeated Specter for the Democratic nomination. When Pennsylvania Democrats rejected the insider establishment embrace of Specter, incumbents across the nation began to realize just how volatile the 2010 electorate was proving to be.
Obama Fires His General
When Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his top aides were quoted in a Rolling Stone interview saying less-than-flattering things about key national security players in the Obama administration and questioning President Obama’s comfort with military brass, the president was faced with a significant test of his commander in chief credentials. He came to the conclusion that McChrystal’s continued service would be untenable despite his overseeing an escalation of the American war effort in Afghanistan and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus.
A Passionate Plea
If you missed Phil Davison’s plea to become Stark County treasurer, you must not have been very tuned in to the political campaign this year. The Republican candidate for the local Ohio office became the classic example of a viral video this campaign season. The video of Davison’s stump speech serves as an important reminder to politicians of all stripes and at any level that in the YouTube age you can quickly become a sensation and not necessarily for the right reasons.
‘I’m Not A Witch’
In Delaware, with the help of Tea Party activists, Republican Christine O’Donnell scored a major upset by defeating the candidate preferred by the Republican establishment, Rep. Mike Castle. He was seen as having the only shot of flipping the Senate seat that once belonged to Vice President Biden form Democratic hands to Republican hands in the left-leaning state. As the Republican nominee, O’Donnell immediately had to begin answering questions about old appearances she made on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” show on HBO. One Maher clip where O’Donnell talked about dabbling in witchcraft went viral in a hurry. O’Donnell chose to respond by launching her first television ad where she says directly to the camera, “I’m not a witch.” When a candidate has to declare that as a fact, it probably is a sure sign the campaign is in trouble. O’Donnell went on to lose to Democrat Chris Coons by nearly 20 points. On the bright side, O’Donnell became a household name with lots of “Saturday Night Live” mockery.
The Comeback Kid
The post-election season provided one of the more unexpected pieces of video we had ever seen. As President Obama was working feverishly to sell his compromise proposal on extending the Bush-era tax cuts to both his party in Congress and the country at large, he called in a predecessor to help close the deal. Former President Bill Clinton met with President Obama, as scheduled, in the Oval Office on Dec. 10. When the two presidents concluded their chat, they decided to head to the press briefing room so that Mr. Clinton could endorse President Obama’s plan in front of the television cameras. As is his wont, Clinton took hold of the podium in the briefing room and clearly didn’t want to let go. He began taking questions from reporters on a variety of topics. President Obama excused himself, saying he already left First Lady Michelle Obama waiting for 30 minutes. So he left the briefing room and allowed Mr. Clinton to soak up the press spotlight solo in his old stomping grounds. Simply, it was classic Clinton.
So what did you think was the greatest political moment of 2010?
Related: White House Photographer Pete Souza shares moments from 2010.