Here are the Associated Press’s top 10 biggest news stories of the year for Iowans.

1. MISSING COUSINS — The bodies of two young cousins are found in a Bremer County park, five months after they were last seen riding their bikes in Evansdale. The disappearance of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins prompted a huge search by local authorities and the FBI. No one has been charged in their deaths.

READ MORE: AP: Wisconsin Democrats Renew Call For Votes On Gun Safety Bills

2. IOWA CAUCUSES (tie) — The state’s lead-off presidential caucuses endure criticism after a close vote and counting problems prompt Republican Party officials to incorrectly announce that Mitt Romney had won. Later, the party announced that Rick Santorum had narrowly won the caucuses.

2. DROUGHT (tie) — Iowans endure a stubborn drought that has lingered through much of the central United States for months. The drought and summer heat hurt yields for farmers, though many salvage an acceptable harvest, in part due to advances in seed technology that made plants better able to withstand the harsh conditions.

4. GENERAL ELECTION — After a summer of intense campaigning, Democrat Barack Obama wins in the battleground state of Iowa over Republican Mitt Romney. The election also sees GOP Rep. Tom Latham beat longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Leonard Boswell in the 3rd Congressional District.

5. PINK SLIME — Media reports and social media claims about a beef product dubbed “pink slime” blow up over days, ultimately causing a South Dakota-based meat processor to close plants in Iowa, Kansas and Texas and lay off 700 people as sales plummet. After trying to fight back against the claims, the company sues ABC News, claiming the network damaged the company by misleading consumers.

6. GAY MARRIAGE — Opponents of gay marriage lose twice in the general election. Voters opted to retain Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, despite his support for a unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state, and Democrats retain control of the Iowa Senate, making it unlikely conservatives can move ahead with efforts to repeal the gay marriage law.

READ MORE: Wisconsin Launches Statewide Sexual Assault Tracking System

7. PEREGRINE FINANCIAL — Cedar Falls investment broker Russ Wasendorf Sr. pleads guilty to misusing $200 million in customer funds over a 20-year period. The case came to light when Wasendorf tried to kill himself and left a note explaining his actions.

8. UNI CUTBACKS — The University of Northern Iowa moves ahead with reductions and eliminations of a wide range of academic programs, saying the move was needed to reduce spending. The cutbacks were met with protests from students, faculty and national education groups.

9. VOTING — Secretary of State Matt Schultz fails in his effort to require identification at polling places and ease challenges to voters, but he vows to keep up the fight against voter fraud. Gov. Terry Branstad also wades into the issue by standing by his policy requiring people convicted of crimes to navigate a lengthy process before their voting rights can be restored.

10. IOWA LEGISLATURE (tie) — Gov. Terry Branstad pushes ahead with an ambitious agenda in the 2012 legislative session, but Republicans can’t reach agreement with Senate Democrats and most plans for education and taxes are shelved.

10. XI JINPING (tie) — Residents of Muscatine and others in Iowa welcome a visit by Xi Jinping, then China’s vice president who since has been named general secretary of the country’s Communist Party. The trip represents a homecoming for Xi, who had stayed in the Mississippi River town during a visit 27 years earlier.

MORE NEWS: Wednesday Marks 2 Years Since George Floyd's Murder

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)