As September draws to an end, a familiar parlor game is starting — the speculation about a pre-election “October surprise.” The term came into favor in 1972 when President Nixon’s then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger proclaimed “peace is at hand” in the Vietnam War, lending support for Nixon’s campaign against Democrat George McGovern. Since then, the “surprise” has represented some unexpected event that can change the course of an election.
The “October surprise” does not have to happen in October, just near enough to an election that a candidate has little time to regroup. Allegations of a long-lost drunk driving scandal against candidate George W. Bush in 2000 popped up in early November. In 2008, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain were startled by September’s financial crisis. But the point is clear: Something, anything, could happen. With momentum turning towards President Obama, the search for a surprise is in earnest.