10 cameos that lit up the US election campaign
- 11 November 2012
- From the section Magazine
Much of a US election campaign is achingly familiar - babies are kissed, the hot topics of the day are debated and the faithful pump their fists at rallies across the land. But then along comes something different.
Every so often, the spotlight falls on someone hitherto unknown, giving the campaign some colour and capturing the mood of the time. Or a mundane item suddenly makes headlines.
Here is a selection of characters and things that secured their moments in the spotlight, and some of them recall what it was like in the fleeting glare of the media.
Scott Van Duzer
President Obama couldn't have known the welcome that was waiting for him at the Big Apple Pizza restaurant in Fort Pierce, Florida, during a campaign stop in the crucial swing state. "We were taken totally off guard," says Scott Van Duzer, the owner. "We didn't know he was coming. We kinda hit it off and he was like an old high school friend, so I decided to hug him." The photograph of the embrace caused a sensation and became one of the defining images of the campaign. Some Republican voters boycotted the shop after the incident, while Mr Van Duzer says that business, in general, has boomed since his meeting with the president.
Few would-be First Ladies have baked their way through a campaign trail quite as prolifically as Ann Romney did in 2012. The sweet treat of choice? The humble Welsh cake. A staple of tea times in Wales, where her father comes from, Mrs Romney baked the small, raisin studded cakes wherever the campaign took her, and kept true to the recipe her grandmother taught her as a girl. Recipe requests for Welsh cakes spiked in the US while those lucky enough to sample Mrs Romney's delicacies were effusive in their praise. One self-professed "Welsh cake purist" wasn't so impressed, however, "Ann Romney's cakes are no good. No good at all," Welsh journalist Alex Rees told reporters in August.
When Congressman Paul Ryan strode on to the national stage as Mitt Romney's vice-presidential candidate, it wasn't just political pulses that were set racing. Cheeks flushed across the political spectrum at the thought of one of the most ripped vice-presidential candidates in American history. The source of Paul Ryan's physique soon emerged as P90X, the gruelling home workout that had been a staple of the US 'infomercial' circuit for years. Sales reportedly spiked, internet traffic for P90X soared and Ryan soon boasted the most politically potent abdominals in political history. As one internet user put it in August, "All Ryan has to do is take his shirt off and this election is over." Disappointed Republicans might be feeling it's a shame he never did.
The final meal Ann Harris ever served at the Ohio diner she had owned for 30 years was a plate of eggs, bacon and wheat toast, and a glass of orange juice. The customer who had ordered it was Barack Obama. "She was the happiest woman in the world," says Wilma Parsons, Harris's daughter. "My mother was smiles from ear to ear." But within a few hours, Ann Harris was in an ambulance, being rushed to a local hospital, having complained of feeling unwell. She died, aged 70, later that morning. "He called from Air Force One," says Ms Parsons. "He said he enjoyed his talk with my mother, what a wonderful lady she was, and told me to let the family know that we are in his prayers. It meant the world to me."
Months before Mitt Romney had even secured the Republican Party's presidential nomination, the attack ads had already hit the airwaves. They tried to portray him as a ruthless venture capitalist, more concerned with profit than with the people he employed. But the tactic backfired when former steelworker Joe Soptic appeared in a privately-funded ad and appeared to suggest that Romney had been involved in his wife's death. (The Soptics lost their health insurance - which covered his wife's cancer treatment - when the steelworks Joe worked at was bought by Romney's company Bain Capital, and let him go.) The Republicans - and some Democrats - were fiercely critical and the Obama campaign was forced to distance itself from the claims.
Clint Eastwood's empty chair
Few people could get away with talking to an empty chair, live on television, during one of the most crucial political events of the year. But, my, Clint Eastwood gave it a shot. The 82-year-old Oscar winner's speech at the Republican National Convention in Florida - in which he addressed an invisible Barack Obama - bemused as much as it enthralled the some 33million viewers who had tuned in to watch the convention's closing night. "Let me just say this is entertaining but holy hell it is weird," said one conservative blogger. The Obama campaign quickly released a photo online, of the president, seated in a chair, with the words "This seat's taken" pasted to the back, and a Twitter account featuring photos of empty chairs, garnered almost 40,000 followers within 24-hours.
Horses and bayonets
Intended as a slap-down to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's understanding of the make-up of the US military, Barack Obama landed himself one of the most quoted one-liners of the entire campaign. During the third televised debate, in New York state, President Obama told his challenger that, as well as having fewer ships in the US Navy, the US Armed Forces also used fewer horses and bayonets today, too. That may be true, but some journalistic-digging revealed that the US Army does still in fact use both forms of military hardware in its operations. All new-recruits to the Marines are trained to use bayonets - whereas horses are primarily used for parades and other official events. Several commentators criticised the president for his "snarky" remark.
David Axelrod's moustache
The moustache is a dying breed in US politics. So much so that the American Moustache Institute petitioned Congress to give moustachioed Americans a $250 tax break. Bristles across the political class quivered, therefore, when one of President Obama's key advisers put his whiskers on the line for the president's re-election campaign. As the polls tightened in Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, Axelrod, live on American TV, said: "I will shave off my moustache of 40 years if we lose any of those three states." The Democrats won in all three, but Axelrod has laid down the gauntlet once more, promising to sacrifice his moustache if he raises enough cash for charity.
Wedding cakes rarely become the focus of political debate, but in 2012 they did. When Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop in Denver, Colorado, was asked to make a wedding cake for a gay couple tying the knot, he said no. "We would close down the bakery before we would compromise our beliefs," Phillips told a local news reporter when the story broke in July. Protesters gathered nearby, online petitions began circulating and the national press renewed its discussion of same-sex marriage as an election issue. Gay marriage was legalised by three states on election day. Phillips later told Fox News that business at his shop had doubled since the controversy.
Rarely does a voice cut through the white noise of election year quite as crisply as Abigael Evans's did, a week before the election. The four year-old from Colorado, red-faced and puffy-eyed and choking back her tears, voiced the unspoken mood of the nation when she told her mother why she was crying. "I'm tired," she stuttered, "I'm tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney." The clip recorded by Abby's mother, Elizabeth Evans, has been watched more than 15 million times on YouTube.