Bryan Cranston, Padma Lakshmi, Newt Gingrich, Matt Lauer, Michael Nutter cast non-Obama votes for ‘Time’ Person of the Year

Bryan Cranston and Padma Lakshmi at today's lunch. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
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Time magazine has a track record of picking newly elected or reelected presidents for its annual "Person of the Year" cover, which is now in its 85th year.

Bill Clinton had the distinction in 1992 and 1998. George W. Bush clinched it in 2000 and 2004. And seeing as how Barack Obama was Time's Person of the Year in 2008, it would be reasonable to assume that the magazine will reprise that selection when it announces 2012's winner next month.

But Obama was not the popular favorite among the celebrity panelists who were convened, as they are every November, in the Time & Life building's eighth floor ballroom to cast and debate their votes for the person, group of people or idea that, "for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year."

Instead, the panelists tended to agree that Obama's landslide victory against Mitt Romney last week was more a reflection of partisan ennui, Republican missteps and an overall U.S. demographic shift than it was a significant personal victory for the president.

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"It all goes back to people being dissatisfied," said "Today" co-host Matt Lauer. "This idea of hope and change four years ago played out to be just a lot more dissatisfaction."

Lauer's "Person of the year? It's a toss up between Climate change ("Two words: Hurricane Sandy," he said) and the unemployed American worker.

"They were the subject of every single rally and stump speech in every battleground state over the last 12 months," he said."

Just ask Newt Gingrich, who was at many of those rallies and stump speeches during his failed primary campaign, and who is himself a former Person of the Year (1995). He tossed out a similarly populist nominee: "The American voter," who has "once again earned our respect by doing what they intended, not what they were told."

Gingrich's runner's up included Angela Merkel and, surprisingly enough, Barack Obama, whom he said he has "twice underestimated."

Padma Lakshmi made an eloquent and impassioned case for Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist who survived a Taliban gunman's bullet on October 9.

"You have this 15-year-old girl right in the heart of darkness as a beacon of light," said Lakshmi.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is stumping for women in general.

"In the past year or so, we've seen numerous verbal attacks on women in the U.S.," he said, "mostly by men who don't know what they're talking about, and we know they're going to move forward."

And "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston took a moment to recognize some luminaries from the sports and entertainment worlds (Jeremy Lin, Adele and yes, One Direction) before settling on a more abstract choice: New media, which he cited as the driving force of the uprisings that have swept the Middle East.

"This new way of instant information has great benefits and sometimes dangerous consequences," he said.

After the panelists had their say, members of the audience, all filled up on pear salad, roast chicken and mini dessert pastries, floated a few more possibilities, including the Republican Party, America's counterterrorism program and, as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro argued, space exploration: "I think 2012 was really the year when space exploration rallied back."

In the end, Time managing editor Rick Stengel hinted that the official 2012 Person of the Year was among the list of aforementioned names.

"Has my choice come up?" he said. "Yes."

But we'll have to wait another month to find out who it is: As always, the Person of the Year will be unveiled on the "Today" show on Dec. 19.