WASHINGTON – In a year full of leaks and forgeries, primal screams and slam dunks, campaign missteps and political two-steps, scandals and celebrations, 2004 was so loaded with news, even the most attuned pundits needed time to think about the winners and losers in this year's political year in review.
To no one's surprise, the re-election battle between President Bush (search) and Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) was the biggest saga of 2004, unfolding over nearly the entire length of the year and reaching a crescendo on Nov. 2.
But beyond the main event were some memorable gaffes, jarring moments and even a few underreported stories.
Several Fox News contributors and guest analysts have attempted to wrap up the year neatly with a holiday bow and perhaps predict some interesting events to come.
Best Political Moment of 2004
“The Republican [National] Convention (search),” said Jim Pinkerton, nationally syndicated columnist and weekly panelist on "Fox News Watch." “Overall, as a package, it exceeded expectations.”
The August event, which took place in New York City, cost the city and federal government millions of dollars and utilized the services of thousands of New York City police officers, and state and federal law enforcement agents to ensure a safe perimeter around what Pinkerton and others consider the most well-orchestrated and politically effective convention ever.
“It was wildly successful, proving wrong all of the expectations that the protesters would trash it and setting the course of the next two months to come,” Pinkerton said.
But Ellis Henican, Newsday columnist and Fox News analyst, had another event that defined the biggest political moment of the year — the summer launching of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) campaign, which he said set Kerry on a course for defeat.
“It was a story that was largely trumped up, and it was enormously successful,” he said.
Biggest Political Gaffe
“Even though it was misinterpreted with the way it was played on television, I think the ‘Dean scream’ was one of the worst gaffes," said Jane Hall, American University communications professor and weekly panelist on "Fox News Watch," referring to the bellow emitted by Gov. Howard Dean (search) hours after losing the Iowa Democratic caucuses in January.
Already known as a political rabble-rouser, Dean’s “scream” was replayed for days, seemingly blowing all of his political credibility and helping to dismiss him as the eventual Democratic candidate for president.
"Even though I’ve interviewed him and he makes an interesting case that it didn’t play the same way in the room ... it hurt his candidacy,” said Hall.
Henican, however, came up with a much more recent illustration of the political meltdown of the year.
“Bernie Kerik — the one unexpected development in really the last couple of years of the Bush presidency,” Henican said, referring to the failed bid by former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik (search) to fill the slot of homeland security secretary, replacing retiring Secretary Tom Ridge.
Nominated in December, it turns out that Kerik had more than a few skeletons in his closet, including extra-marital affairs, charges of taking gifts and not declaring them while police commissioner and a sketchy record as a hired security chief in Saudi Arabia.
“Bernie Kerik — this guy who looks like a cross between Telly Savalas and G. Gordon Liddy — is the central casting vision of a homeland security chief who turns out to be an empty suit and a fraud. Surprise, Mr. President,” Henican said.
Bill Sammon, Washington Times reporter and a Fox News contributor, said Kerry won the category for biggest political gaffe.
"'I actually voted for the $87 billion — [before] I voted against it,'" Sammon said, echoing the now famous remark Kerry made in March to a group of veterans at a town hall-style meeting at Marshall College in West Virginia. The quote was immediately fashioned into Bush campaign ads designed to underscore their attack on Kerry as a "flip-flopper."
"It was a brutally devastating gaffe on Kerry's part," said Sammon. But, he added, to the Bush campaign, "It was the gift that kept on giving."
Best Photo Op
“Bush hugging the girl,” said Pinkerton, referring to Ashley Faulkner (search) of Ohio, who lost her mother in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and found herself in the embrace of the president at an Ohio pep rally as Bush’s entourage made its way through her state. The photo, and her story, made it into a campaign advertisement for Bush, sponsored by the Progress for America Voter Fund (search).
A little over the top? Sure, said Pinkerton, but it had an impact.
While it may have had little impact on the campaign, Sammon said a July 4 photo of Kerry hanging two ears of unshucked corn out of the window of his campaign bus in Iowa is still one of his favorites.
"Teresa has this big, funny smile on her face," Sammon said, referring to Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. "[Cyber-reporter Matt] Drudge had this headline on his Web site for it, 'Kerry Does Iowa.'"
The most enduring image of 2004 for Henican was the photo of Pfc. Lynndie England (search) holding a leash with an Iraqi prisoner on the other end, in what has now become the Abu Ghraib (search) prisoner scandal. Its release in June along with hundreds more pictures called into question U.S. military policy on prisoner treatment. They have been used to inflame anti-American sentiment across the Muslim world.
“We truly did go there to do good,” said Henican, “but somehow or another, the Iraqi war was getting out of our control and that picture more than dead bodies and far more gruesome things seemed to symbolize to people that somehow our good intentions may have gone awry.”
“Karl Rove (search),” said Hall, referring to the White House senior political adviser and man credited for crafting Bush's winning campaign. “Bush called him the architect of his campaign and clearly whatever he says will be golden for a long time.”
Sammon agreed. "The chattering classes all thought Kerry would win and what happened is Karl Rove out-hustled the Democrats at their own game," he said.
"It was the first presidential election in modern history where the Republicans did a better job of getting the grassroots out to vote," Sammon added, giving Rove credit for pulling it together at the outset.
Pinkerton said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (search) also deserves a nod “because it wasn’t just Bush who won, there was a Republican Party sweep. Actually, the Republicans in Congress did even better than Bush did.”
Bush is still the clear winner, Henican said. “It’s hard to get around Bush on this,” he said. “They’ll be teaching this election in political science schools for the next 100 years.”
“It truly is the Democratic Party (search), which can’t seem to gain traction,” Henican said, voicing an opinion that was frequently repeated.
Pinkerton said the clear loser in 2004 was “unreconstructed blue-state liberalism.” He said the left-leaning intellectual elite and Hollywood culturalists missed their chance to reshape the party before it was too late. In the end, they lost seats in Congress and they lost the White House.
Hall said inarticulate Democrats will continue to lose big, until “it figures out how to speak more clearly on what it stands for and what it will do in 2008.”
Most Underreported Story
“I would have to say the environment,” said Hall. “The Environmental Protection Agency (search) has been weakened and the industry has been left to regulate itself. I think that will be an issue for 2005.”
Pinkerton said the fate of Europe — including its loss of identity, its disagreements on the war and its search for a cultural and economic fit in the world — is on the line, and the press in the United States has been largely uninterested in reporting it.
Henican said the failing drug war and a fresh look at tough minimum sentencing guidelines (search) for non-violent drug offenders has also been a buried story worth looking at.
Issue to Look for in 2005
The analysts varied on the biggest headline-grabbing story for the next year.
"The most important one is who is going to be on the Supreme Court (search)," said Henican. "And there are a bunch of ripe issues that the court will be deciding."
"Clearly the future of Iraq (search) and the Bush doctrine in the Middle East is the biggest issue facing the country today," said Pinkerton.
Hall agreed. "The news in Iraq is disturbing and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld is coming under fire. Bush won on national security, but the daily news from Iraq indicates they're going to have to give us better answers."
Sammon said he believes the Middle East (search) peace process will take on a greater role in 2005. "I think Bush is going to spend a lot of capital trying to get the Palestinians and Israelis together."
Politician to Look for in 2005
“Rick Santorum (search) and Barack Obama (search),” said Henican of the Pennsylvania Republican senator and Illinois Democratic senator-elect respectively. “Both have very powerful patrons, both are still on the 'B-team' but are headed for the 'A-team' and they couldn’t be any more different from each other.”
Hall added that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) and her potential presidential aspirations will be interesting to watch, too.
"I think the politician to look for is Condoleezza Rice (search)," said Sammon, referring to the national security adviser and president's nominee to become the next secretary of state. "She is a dynamic, articulate, African-American woman who is also a conservative Republican and I think she is potential vice president material."
Pinkerton said the real pol to watch is President Bush. "He doesn't sound like a second-term president, he sounds like a first-term president — he's extremely ambitious and energetic and we'll see if he can pull it off."