Friday, November 2, 2012

This year the October surprise came in September

Before every presidential election, rumors swirl of an October surprise. The term refers to the last minute release of information to hurt an opponent with voters. By timing the release of damaging information just before the election, the opponent does not have time to rebuff the charges and correct the damage.

In most cases, Democratic candidates have perpetrated October surprises on Republicans. In 1992, George Herbert Walker Bush was damaged by the news that former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger would be indited for weapons smuggling in the Iran-Contra affair. In 2000, news of George W. Bush’s arrest for DUI was released just before the election. In 2004, the New York Times made the allegation, later disproved, that a weapons depot in Iraq was left unguarded and raided by insurgents.

This year many observers predicted an October surprise from President Obama based on a New York Times article that said Iran had agreed to one-on-one negotiations with the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The report, which was released just prior to the foreign policy debate on Oct. 20, was denied by the president during the debate.

As more states enact laws allowing early voting, October surprises are less effective unless they are carried out earlier. This year it seems that the October surprise was actually released in September.

On Sept. 18, Mother Jones published a video on Youtube of Mitt Romney speaking to supporters in which he made the now famous “47 percent” comment. Mother Jones claimed that the video was from a “recent” fundraiser. In reality, the video was four months old with parts of it having been uploaded to Youtube the first time in May according to New York magazine. Ironically, the video was spread by Jimmy Carter IV, an unemployed grandson of the former president. According to ABC News, the video was recorded on May 17.

The Romney recording has been compared to several of Barack Obama’s unscripted moments. In 2008, then-Senator Obama told supporters that blue collar voters “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Earlier this year, Obama was caught on tape telling Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that “This is my last election ... After my election I have more flexibility” according to Reuters.

In both cases, Obama’s comments were reported immediately. In the case of Romney, the person who made the recording waited several months to release the entire video according to ABC News. After receiving the entire recording, Mother Jones held it for “several weeks” to “take some time to really make sure we had a story that was completely solid. You know, verify it, fact check, do additional reporting.”

The recording hurt Romney in the polls for weeks, but he eventually repudiated his comments. A strong performance in the first presidential debate restored his standing in the polls.

With only three days left before Election Day, there is little time left to unleash a November surprise. Any such attempt would be lost to the weekend or stories about Hurricane Sandy, making a significant swing in the polls unlikely.

A Rasmussen poll released on November 1 shows Mitt Romney with a two point lead over President Obama nationally. Undecided voters give Romney the edge in most swing states as well.


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