It was a grim American year, one that began with occasional moments of political farce, marked by economic indolence and ended in unspeakable tragedy. In January the nation dragged its attention to the Republican primaries, a contest that had been boiling away for six months.
The primaries, like the election proper, are always an ordeal, but this year they were longer and louder since the campaigns were awash with cash after a Supreme Court decision scrapped most controls on corporate political donations.
What the debate sometimes lacked in substance it made up for in personality. The pizza executive Herman Cain dropped out in December last year and backed Newt Gingrich, who attracted attention at the end of January for his announcement that as president he would build moon bases by 2020.
Spoiling the party ... hurricane Sandy brought devastation to the US Atlantic coast before Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term, below. Photo: Reuters
But it was the Catholic hardliner Rick Santorum who proved the hardest obstacle for Mitt Romney's campaign. His doggedness highlighted two narratives Barack Obama's campaign was honing - that Republicans could not really fall in behind Romney, and in power the GOP would attack abortion rights.
All year Republicans eagerly fed Democrats material supporting their allegation the GOP was engaged in a ''war on women''. In February, the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, a ''slut'' for advocating health insurance for contraception. Not a single senior Republican criticised him.
In Virginia, the governor championed a law that would force women to have invasive ultrasounds of the vagina before they could have an abortion. In August, the Republican congressman Todd Akin said women rarely became pregnant from what he called ''legitimate rape''. In October, the Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said pregnancies that resulted from rape were intended by God.
No forged deal yet ... US President Obama faces a struggling economy. Photo: Reuters
Women were important to Obama's victory, as were other groups the Obama campaign had quietly and ruthlessly stitched together - among them young voters, Latinos and gays.
Romney had not always helped his own cause. In September Mother Jones magazine published a recording of Romney telling supporters 47 per cent of the nation believed they were victims and would never support him. He was at least half right.
Obama's other substantial success came in June, when the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to key elements of his healthcare reforms. In the end it was a 5-4 decision, with a crucial vote coming from the conservative chief justice, John Roberts, who was immediately named a traitor by some conservatives.
As attention was diverted by the campaign theatrics, in the background the mess that is the fiscal cliff sat unattended. The two parties have still been unable to forge a deal in Congress to avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that kick in on January 1, potentially forcing the US back into recession.
Only the landfall of Sandy, the largest recorded hurricane to hit the Atlantic coast of the US, prompted some semblance of national unity. As 253 victims were mourned, the President won support for the government's response, not least from New Jersey's Republican Governor, Chris Christie, a leading contender for nominee in 2016.
But as the year ends, the nation cannot shift its attention from the murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14. This was not the first American massacre of 2012. It was not even the first carried out with an AR-15 assault rifle.
In July, James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58 in a Colorado cinema. Pundits agreed that not even pointless murder on this scale would prompt a debate on gun control. They were right. It was not even mentioned after Wade Page shot dead six people in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in August, nor on December 11, when Jacob Roberts shot dead two people in an Oregon mall, using an AR-15 that jammed during the attack.
But America has been truly shocked by the Sandy Hook deaths. By the time the Connecticut medical examiner told of victims who had suffered between three and 11 gunshot wounds, serious demands for restrictions on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines were already being made.
The President joined the chorus when he spoke at a memorial for the victims, saying he would use ''whatever power this office holds'' to prevent further tragedies. Given that the fractured Congress has been unable to cut a deal to avoid tax rises no one wants, it is hard to see how the body would pass gun control laws opposed by much of the electorate and the most powerful lobbying group in DC, the National Rifle Association.
What is clear is that Obama's success or failure in prosecuting gun control in 2013 will sit alongside his economic management and the impact of his healthcare reforms as the standard by which his presidency shall be judged.