The Six Most Valuable Players Of The 2012 Election

A grateful chattering class thanks Joe Biden and John Sununu.

1. MVP (D): Bill Clinton

President Barack Obama wouldn’t be where he is today, standing with a better-than-even chance of holding onto the White House, without its last Democratic occupant Bill Clinton. It was Clinton who pushed Obama to frame Romney as severely conservative, who test-drove and then most ruthlessly deployed attacks on the Republican nominee, and who reignited a weary and disillusioned base at the Democratic convention.

Even Republicans give him credit. Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden said on Sunday that Clinton is the real running-mate on the Obama-Biden ticket, picking up the slack in the delicate situations where Joe Biden might not have been appropriate or effective.

2. MVP (R): Ann Romney

No one has done more to soften the Republican nominee’s wooden exterior than his wife. Ann Romney has consistently been her husband’s staunchest defender and has provided a window into his private life he is incapable of sharing himself. Her speech at the Republican National Convention in August was all about “love,” she said. “And that is where this boy I met at a high school dance comes in. His name is Mitt Romney and you should really get to know him.”

3. Most Improved (D): Stephanie Cutter

Cutter, a key aide on John Kerry’s 2004 bid, was blamed by some colleagues for the campaign’s inadequate response to the Swift Boat attacks. It was an experience that left her with “lasting emotional scars,” her friends told BuzzFeed in April. But in 2008, Cutter made her return to the political arena, acting as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff during Obama’s first campaign, and she remained as a key White House staffer.

In 2012, she’s taken on a central, and more public, role, as deputy campaign manager, and more often the public face and attack dog of the Obama reelection bid. The most frequent face of OFA to appear on cable news, Cutter has been relentless in helping to shape key narratives of the race — particularly in framing the Republican “war on women,” and in casting Mitt Romney as the ruthless businessman of Bain Capital. At the height of the attacks on Bain, Cutter famously inferred that Romney had committed a felony by misrepresenting his position at the firm to the SEC.

Cutter has not been without missteps on the trail — she took heat for her handling of the Benghazi crisis before the first presidential debate, for example — but she will be remembered more for the key role she played in 2012 and for her ability to carve out space for herself inside the ultra-competitive Obama campaign. When Axe was operating behind the scenes and Messina was crunching numbers, Cutter was always on the front lines.

4. Most Improved (R): Rob Portman

During the Veepstakes, Rob Portman would joke, “I’m so boring that I didn’t even know I was boring,” and while he didn’t earn a spot on the ticket with Mitt Romney, he has distinguished himself in the Romney campaign and the broader Republican party.

The debate coach is given an immense amount of credit inside the Romney campaign for his work preparing the candidate for the first presidential debate. He rose from Obama stand-in to a pseudo strategist, helping draft effective lines for Romney to deploy in debates.

Portman has done more than 118 events for Romney, including full days of debate prep, since January, according to his office.

(Florida Senator Marco Rubio likely has the next highest total, holding or attending over 70 events for Romney.)

5. Most Entertaining (R): John Sununu

Like Joe Biden, Romney surrogate John Sununu has had his share of cringe-worthy moments. Just last month, the former governor suggested Colin Powell had only endorsed Obama because the president is black. But for the majority of the election, Sununu has been the most entertaining, and unpredictable, surrogate on cable news.

He told Fox News that the president has no idea how the “American system” functions because he, “spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something.” And in a still memorable hit on MSNBC during the New Hampshire primary, Sununu told Ed Schultz that a study by the Tax Policy Center wasn’t reliable. “With all due respect to that organization,” Sununu said, “there’s a technical term to that: It’s a crock of crap.”

But Sununu took it a step too far when he accused Colin Powell of only endorsing Obama because of race, and he hasn’t been heard from since.

6. Most Entertaining (D): Joe Biden

When the GOP primary wasn’t around any longer to entertain, Joe Biden stepped in. Aside from one or two legitimately damaging gaffes — see: “put y’all back in shackles” — Biden’s “Bidenisms” have provided some much needed comic relief — and gone a long way toward merging his Onion caricature with reality.

On August 22, Biden told a crowd, “I can tell you I’ve known eight presidents, three of them intimately.” In April, he cited Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote, with a twist: “I promise you, the president has a big stick. I promise you,” he said. And during the vice presidential debate, Biden couldn’t even keep himself from laughing.

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