How Big Bird won the first presidential debate of 2012

To the list of "unlikely subjects of political discussion, 2012," please add one beloved "Sesame Street" character. The 8'2" bird entered the conversation at Monday's first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado, when Republican candidate Mitt Romney answered a question about what he would cut from federal spending. He included the federal subsidy to PBS, which broadcasts "Sesame Street."

"I love Big Bird," Romney added as a caveat, addressing moderator Jim Lehrer. "I actually like you, too." Lehrer is the former anchor of PBS's NewsHour.

The moment immediately went viral. Twitter reported that mentions of "Big Bird" hit a peak of 17,000 tweets per minute--not bad when you consider that Mitt Romney only managed slightly more than 14,000 tweets per minute during his address at the Republican National Convention.

Big Bird spawned a faux Twitter account, @FiredBigBird (Bio: Just got fired by Mitt Romney), which by the end of the debate had around 12,000 followers. Big Bird for President's newly drawn up Facebook page had more than 5,000 likes by the end of the evening. It also spawned user-generated art, like the Capit created by an IntoNow user, pictured above, as well as gifs. Check out this one from microblogging site Tumblr's effort to gif-blog the entire debate: