From U.S. President Barack Obama's 90-minute sleep-walk through his first prime-time debate against Mitt Romney to actor Clint Eastwood's rant to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, there was no shortage of surreal moments this election season.
The nail-biting drama that was the race for the White House featured some unexpected supporting characters. These were some of them:
Superstorm Sandy as cupid: Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, was among Obama's harshest critics for months, serving as one of Romney's top attack dogs and delivering the keynote address at the Republican convention in Tampa. That was all before Sandy decimated his beloved Jersey shore.
Christie has had nothing but effusive praise for Obama since the ferocious mega-storm lurched through the mid-Atlantic region, saying the president's handling of the federal response has been "outstanding." When the president came to tour the devastation, the men heartily commended one another as they visited a makeshift shelter and comforted those left homeless by the storm.
When was Romney going to be invited to tour the state, Christie was asked? "I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested," came his terse reply.
The sudden bromance rankled the Romney campaign, left conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh apoplectic — the corpulent radio star, with no hint of irony, called the governor a fat fool — and prompted disgraced media baron Rupert Murdoch to tweet ominously that Christie "must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years."
Chris Christie as president of his own fan club: The Obama-Christie love-in wasn't the first time the governor had annoyed team Romney, even though he was once on the short list of potential running mates. His keynote address to the convention in August was meant to make the case for a Romney presidency. Instead, it made the case for a Christie presidency — perhaps predictably, given the governor is seriously eyeing a run in 2016.
Romney, who mastered a beatific listening face during his second run for the White House, appeared visibly miffed as it took Christie more than 15 minutes to even mention his name. It was later revealed that Romney's handlers suggested, after reading a draft of the speech, that the governor might perhaps refer more frequently to the party's current nominee. They were rebuffed.
Clint Eastwood as angry old uncle at Thanksgiving dinner: Mysteriously, Romney's saintly expression returned as the iconic Hollywood actor took to the stage at the convention. Backstage, he reportedly laughed throughout Eastwood's rambling, disjointed rant to an empty chair that was supposed to be Obama, even as the actor threw the prime-time convention off-schedule and became, within seconds, the subject of gleeful social media ridicule.
For many observers, Eastwood's bizarre shtick was the most memorable moment of the convention, completely overshadowing Romney's speech and the truly heart-warming testimonials from down-to-Earth family friends earlier in the night about the nominee's character and generosity. Ann Romney later griped that those family friends should have been in the primetime spotlight, not Eastwood.
Obama as empty chair: OK, it was a podium, not a chair, but Obama's listless, lacklustre showing during his first presidential debate against Romney in Denver stunned his supporters and dramatically altered the dynamics of the race to the White House.
Heading into the showdown, the president was comfortably ahead of Romney in the polls. In the weeks to follow, Romney — sharp, focused and a sudden moderate — closed the gap and transformed the race into a dead heat. Even though a far more engaged Obama was considered to have won the next two faceoffs, Romney's surge in the polls on the strength of Debate No. 1 was genuine and enduring.
Joe Biden as avenger: Seemingly mindful of the drubbing his boss was taking in the aftermath of that first debate, Biden showed up for his own showdown against Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, with guns blazing. He sneered, he snickered, he sighed. He interrupted, he mocked, he ridiculed. He threw up his hands. He rolled his eyes. He dismissed one of Ryan's assertions as "a bunch of malarkey" as the Wisconsin congressman sucked back glasses of water in quick succession.
Democrats cheered, Republicans jeered, and while Biden may have lacked manners, no one accused the vice-president of lacking cojones the way they did Obama a week earlier. So impressed was the president, in fact, that he studied tape of his No. 2 in action as he prepared for his next debate against Romney.
Donald Trump as constant source of embarrassment: Biden's over-the-top debate performance had nothing, however, on Trump's bids for media attention throughout much of the campaign.
After the mega-mouthed multi-millionaire announced in the spring that he would not, in fact, seek the Republican nomination — after hinting for months that he would — many assumed his tiresome sideshow to the campaign would be finished.
Wrong. Right up until the bitter end, Trump was still trying to insert himself into the race, vowing with great fanfare two weeks ago that he was soon to make an earth-shattering announcement that would sink Obama's bid for a second term.
That "announcement" was a challenge to Obama to release his academic records and passport applications in exchange for Trump donating $5 million to the charity of the president's choice. For his troubles, Trump was utterly ignored by the White House and its press corps, skewered by late-night comics and publicly chastised for making a fool out of himself by his longtime friend, Barbara Walters.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, also told Trump he'd donate $1 million to charity if the real estate mogul — infamous for his feathery, tangerine-tinted comb-over — would shave his head. The Donald didn't reply.
Big Bird as sudden hero: They may share a similar hair hue, but that's where the similarities end between Trump and the famous Muppet. The beloved Big Bird became an unwitting figure in the campaign after Romney asserted, during his first debate against Obama, that even though he "loves Big Bird," he still intended to defund PBS if elected president.
A Big Bird Internet meme was soon born, as was a tongue-in-cheek Obama attack ad. Big Bird appeared on "Saturday Night Live" to defend himself, while some Obama supporters showed up at campaign events dressed as the fine feathered Muppet. And on the weekend before the election, a "Million Puppet March" was held on the National Mall in D.C., with several Big Birds in attendance.
Women in binders: Romney's insistence that he tried to hire more women when governor of Massachusetts, and in fact was handed a "binder full of women" for his efforts, may have been intended to portray himself as an equal-opportunity employer. But his awkward phrasing resulted in yet another anti-Romney social media eruption, with blogs and Twitter accounts springing into existence to feature various women in binders.
"Binders full of women" was even a popular Halloween costume this year, with the three adult daughters of a former Republican presidential hopeful, Jon Huntsman, joining in.
"We're going to be smushed in one binder," Abby Huntsman said. "You have to have more than one woman in a binder."
Romney as bumbling tourist on overseas trip: Big Bird and binders, however, had nothing on the ridicule Romney faced, including from those in his own party, when an overseas trip in July went badly awry.
Ostensibly a journey meant to highlight his foreign policy gravitas, Romney questioned London's preparedness for the Summer Olympics on the eve of the Games' opening ceremonies, earning a sharp rebuke from British Prime Minister David Cameron. He angered Palestinians for remarks he made to Israelis suggesting their culture was superior. The trip went so badly that one of his aides was soon shouting obscenities at the media covering Romney, and Republicans back home were openly wondering why he'd made the voyage.
It also gave the Obama campaign ammunition for months to come, with senior adviser David Axelrod recently referring to it as Romney's "Dukes of Hazzard tour of international destinations."
Bill Clinton as Obama saviour: Mitt Romney had Clint Eastwood overshadowing him at the Republican convention. Obama was luckier: he had Bill Clinton. The men have long had a strained relationship, with animosity existing between them since Obama's bitter 2008 primary fight against Hillary Clinton. But the avuncular, folksy Clinton was a key Obama surrogate this election. His rousing, funny and incisive speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte got far more glowing reviews than the president's, and prompted Obama to quip he was going to appoint the 42nd president the "explainer-in-chief."
Why the newfound bromance? Some suggest Clinton was securing Obama's unwavering support for his wife's run in 2016, while others insist there has been a real thaw in their relationship brought on in part by Clinton's genuine alarm over Romney's vision for the country.
Romney as a heartless elitist: When secretly recorded remarks of Romney disparaging 47 per cent of the population emerged soon after the Republican convention, it seemed to sound a death knell for his campaign.
The video captured Romney telling a private fundraiser in May that it was a waste of time for him to try to appeal to people who were "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them." Romney later apologized for the remarks, and it's a testament to the strength of his performance in the first debate a month later that he managed to pull his campaign out of its tailspin despite taking some damaging hits in the polls due to the controversy.