Cheney said at the time: "I'm glad to be standing in for the president." He continued, "It's been fun running the country while 'Karl Rove' has been gone."
Cheney's remark was a joke, but it illustrated just how powerful Karl Rove -- Bush's senior adviser and chief political strategist -- is perceived to be.
Rove has steered Bush's rise to top politics. Bush himself said Rove was one of the reasons he was elected Texas governor in 1994 and to the presidency six years later.
"I would describe Karl Rove as one of the most gifted political strategists the U.S. has produced over the last few decades," said Patrick Basham, a fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank. "He has enormous influence over political matters within the White House because he has demonstrated a knack and an acumen for identifying both the current mood of the American electorate and the manner in which the electorate can be persuaded to support or oppose particular policies or candidates."
2004 was an election year for Bush. Up until polling day, the race seemed too close to call, with Bush and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, neck-and-neck in the opinion polls.
The Iraq war, terrorism, and the economy appeared to be the key issues that would motivate voters. But other issues would later prove to be just as important.
Karl Rove, speaking in January, said in an interview posted on the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov): "The president made it clear we need to do whatever is legally necessary to protect the sanctity of marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Activist judges are attempting to take this out of the hands of the people and to make these decisions in the courtroom. That's not where they belong."
Basham said it was Rove's insight that the election would turn not only on economic issues or the war in Iraq -- but also on social issues like gay marriage.
"Karl Rove recognized that there were several million Christian evangelical conservative-minded Americans who for one reason or another were not sufficiently enthused about the choice in 2000 to turn out at the polls," Basham said. "He was determined that they would vote in 2004 and would vote for his candidate: Bush. So his advice, and the policy decisions that stemmed in part from that advice, over four years successfully courted social conservatives."
Rove's influence has earned him many descriptions, including "co-president" and "the most powerful unelected man in U.S. history."
In his reelection speech, Bush simply called him "the architect."
The ongoing insurgency in Iraq was one of the year's top stories. It's still unclear who is leading the 18-month insurgency, but the U.S. military continues to pin much of the blame on one man: Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for a string of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings throughout Iraq. And it's been blamed for scores of other deadly attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops and civilians.
One measure of al-Zarqawi's dubious influence is this: the United States doubled, then doubled again, the reward for information leading to his capture. It now stands at $25 million.
And here's another: the belief he and his followers were holed up in a city west of Baghdad led to one of Iraq's biggest military operations in 2004 -- the U.S.-led assault on Al-Fallujah.
This was interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, shortly after authorizing the November offensive on Al-Fallujah: "We have to take action. We can't allow the people to be suffering because some terrorist decides to undermine the Iraqi people."
Al-Zarqawi had previously been involved in attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets in Jordan. But he only rose to prominence in Iraq, becoming a "media star," as one commentator put it, following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
He is often described as an ally or follower of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. But the irony is that those ties may have been forged only recently.
So said Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert at the New America Foundation in Washington and author of the book "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Bin Laden."
"[Al-Zarqawi] has allied himself with Al-Qaeda in the formal sense [only] in the past couple of months," Bergen said. "That is worrisome because it might indicate that he wants to plug into a more international jihadist network. Previously, Zarqawi has really only operated in Jordan and Iraq, to some degree passing through Iran and also in Afghanistan before [11 September 2001]. So, as yet, he's not part of a larger international terrorist network, though one of his groups did have presence in Germany. If Zarqawi can plug into the wider jihadist terrorist network via Al-Qaeda, that's pretty worrying."
In the 1980s, he was a Communist sports minister. In the 1990s, he became his country's president. More recently, he's been a key U.S. ally in the Iraq war and a trusted confidant of U.S. President George W. Bush.
This year, Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski donned another hat: key negotiator in Ukraine's election crisis.
In November, Kwasniewski was among many to criticize Ukraine's presidential runoff as seriously flawed.
"Poland, from the very beginning, considered the presidential election as a test for Ukrainian democracy and Ukraine's credibility among its partners in the world," Kwasniewski said. "Unfortunately, we cannot consider this exam as satisfactory."
The fraud brought thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko on to the streets in nonstop demonstrations.
They won a key victory in early December when the Supreme Court threw out the results that had given victory to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
But there was still deadlock over political reforms that would pave the way for a fresh poll.
Kwasniewski headed to Kyiv, where he led mediation efforts. There, Kwasniewski was instrumental in negotiating a key deal that would end the crisis. Parliament adopted the political reforms, leaving the way open for a new runoff on 26 December.
Some experts said Kwasniewski was suited to the mediator's role as he was respected on both sides of the dispute.
"In a way his success comes partly as a surprise because there was more and more criticism in Poland that [in the past] he relied too heavily on relations with [outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid] Kuchma," said Jakub Boratynski, a European specialist at Warsaw's Stefan Batory Foundation, said. "[But] in fact that investment paid off, in the sense that Kwasniewski was able to strike a deal with Kuchma."
The result is that Kwasniewski's -- and Poland's -- international star is rising.