Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, listens as he is introduced during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday Dec. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
ATLANTA (AP) — Herman Cain's longshot bid for the White House hardly earned any national attention when he announced his candidacy in May. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign almost imploded soon when his top aides walked out on him.
But the two Republican candidates from Georgia made their impact on the GOP presidential race, which was voted the top Georgia story in 2011. Cain briefly emerged as a front-runner in the contest before suspending his candidacy in the face of sexual misconduct allegations. Gingrich remains near the top of some polls as a leading alternative to Mitt Romney.
Other top stories include the execution of Troy Davis, the outbreak of tornadoes that killed 15 people in Georgia and more than 300 across the region, and the ice storm that crippled many parts of the state for days. State legislators also made big news with a new immigration crackdown, cuts to the popular Hope scholarship and a vote that set the stage for the Sunday sale of alcohol.
Georgia's sports teams grabbed headlines, too. The Atlanta Spirit sold the Thrashers to a group in Winnipeg, leaving the city without a hockey franchise, and then abandoned a deal that would have sent the Hawks to a California developer and pizza chain owner. The Atlanta Braves squandered a big lead in September and missed the playoffs, while Georgia's football team won the Southeastern Conference's East division after a dreadful start.
Other top Georgia news and sports stories include:
Megachurch Bishop Eddie Long settled a sexual misconduct lawsuit filed by four young men who claimed he abused his spiritual authority to lure them into relationships, but his troubles were far from over. His wife said she would file for divorce and he announced he's stepping away from the pulpit at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to focus on his family.
Four elderly north Georgia men were charged with a domestic terror plot that stunned their neighbors and relatives. Prosecutors say they sought to buy explosives and weapons to target government officials, scouted federal buildings and talked of using a ricin as a deadly weapon. Defense attorneys say their clients are too old to wield a rifle, let alone carry out a coordinated attack.
The sports world lost two legendary broadcasters. Ernie Johnson Sr., a longtime Braves play-by-play announcer for the team, died at 87. Larry Munson, who was the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs for nearly 43 years, died at 89.
Rapper T.I. was released from custody after spending about 10 months in federal prison on a probation violation. He was released to a halfway house in August but was quickly taken back into custody by officials who were upset he traveled with a TV producer during his 375-mile journey to Atlanta.
Transportation advocates began gearing up for the 2012 vote on a new tax designed to bolster the state's infrastructure after years of aborted efforts. Business groups say the new one-cent sales tax would help ease congestion in Atlanta's traffic-choked streets. Tea party groups and other opponents cast the tax, which could raise $6 billion for the area, as a waste of public money.
The fallout from a widespread cheating investigation continued to reverberate. Longtime Atlanta Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall retired amid accusations that she ordered a cover-up, and special prosecutors were investigating possible criminal charges. Authorities in Dougherty County, meanwhile, said dozens of educators there either cheated or failed to prevent cheating on tests in 2009.
A divided federal appeals court in Atlanta struck down the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, moving the question of whether Americans can be required to buy health insurance a step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision brought cheers from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and other critics who brought the challenge.
Atlanta-based Southern Co. is edging closer to building a new nuclear plant in Georgia, the first built from scratch in this country in more than 30 years. Regulators recently approved a new reactor design that would be used for Plant Vogtle, a $14 billion project that's considered a test of whether the industry can build nuclear plants without long delays and cost overruns.
Cain, a former talk show radio host who gained attention sparring with Bill Clinton over health care, launched his campaign for president in downtown Atlanta to great fanfare in May. He was an afterthought in the race until October, when he began an unlikely surge that left him consistently near the top of most polls.
But relentless accusations of sexual misconduct damaged his campaign. Two women who worked with Cain in the 1990s came forward with details of uncomfortable run-ins with the candidate. The final straw came when Ginger White told a local station that she was in a 13-year extramarital affair with Cain. He suspended his campaign in December, denying the accusations but saying he had little choice due to "continued distractions."
Gingrich, meanwhile, staged a comeback after his debt-ridden campaign was left for dead earlier this year. The former House speaker turned in a series of strong debate performances where he showcased his encyclopedic knowledge of policy minutiae.
Many polls show him among the leaders in the run-up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, and he's belatedly building a national network for a 2012 bid. The 10-term congressman was known for his caustic, bare-knuckled political style. Nonetheless, he pledged to run a positive White House campaign as ads have blanketed the airwaves in early-voting states attacking him.
National and international focus was on Georgia in September when Troy Davis was executed for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer. Thousands of supporters worldwide believed he was wrongfully convicted, and his attorneys said witness testimony pointed to another killer. Davis, in his last words, insisted he was innocent.
Georgia executed three other people this year amid questions about the state's death penalty policies. The Drug Enforcement Administration took the state's supply of sodium thiopental, a sedative used in lethal injections, after critics raised concerns over how it obtained the supply. The state halted all executions until it switched to a new sedative, called pentobarbital, which led to more challenges from death penalty opponents.
A winter storm in January left much of north Georgia paralyzed, stranding drivers and shuttering government offices and school as roads remained coated in treacherous snow and ice. In April, an outburst of tornadoes killed 15 people, flattened hundreds of buildings and trapped some in homes and businesses.
Georgia lawmakers transformed policy in three major areas. The state followed Arizona in adopting a tough new law targeting illegal immigration. Parts of the law were temporarily blocked by federal courts, but a key provision that will eventually require many employers to check the eligibility of new hires is set to take effect in January. The tough stance drew huge protests and acts of civil disobedience, including some that led to arrests.
The popular Hope scholarship underwent key changes, too, as the lottery-funded program's revenues failed to keep pace with enrollment. Most recipients will now see their awards shrink, and the new law also eliminates payments for books, fees and remedial classes.
Lawmakers also paved the way to end a decades-old rule that has long frustrated some residents. Over the objections of conservative Christian groups, legislators let local governments ask voters whether to allow Sunday alcohol sales. Voters in more than 100 cities quickly approved the sales, and some places, like Atlanta, will ring in the changes on New Year's Day.