Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Hunt For An October Surprise

Will one of the campaigns torpedo the other before Election Day?

With the debate season over, one might think that this election season will begin to wind down—at least, as much is possible for our modern political environment: advertisements from both sides of the aisle will continue to flood media markets in swing states (particularly swing counties within swing states, such as the one in which we live); President Obama and Gov. Romney will continue to campaign in those states while fundraising mostly in others; and other statewide races—such as those in the Senate and the House—will play themselves out. It all sounds very normal…

…but too normal, perhaps? For there is one thing that my cursory list failed to mention: the possibility for a so-called “October surprise,” which conventional wisdom holds must occur soon, since we have not had one yet. But what is an October surprise? Loosely defined, it is any sort of development late in a presidential race that evokes significant enough controversy possibly to alter said race’s fundamentals. We have had both successful and unsuccessful examples of these in recent times. In 2000, in the weekend before the election, the country was suddenly and conveniently made aware of then-Gov. George W. Bush’s citation for driving under the influence many years prior. In 2004, Al-Qaeda released a video featuring Osama Bin Laden that thrust terrorism and national security issues into the public mind even more prominently than before, this time (possibly) to Bush's advantage.

When an October surprise emerges domestically and intentionally (unlike the Osama video), it comes from a source not necessarily affiliated with either presidential campaign, yet one that still holds an interest in seeing the other candidate diminished in the public eye. Thus, at this time, it is unlikely that the day-to-day operations of either presidential campaign involve directly digging for dirt to promulgate as a surprise, as opposed to the more routine duties of advertising and campaigning. But there are other ways. In the past week, rumors have ascribed to two individuals the possibility of releasing such a surprise: Gloria Allred, the Democratic lawyer and famed dirt digger whose allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain (remember him?) forced the erstwhile candidate to suspend his campaign last winter; and Donald Trump, who probably requires no description.

What these two have in mind—if anything—is, at this point, unknown. Trump, for his part, plans to release his findings tomorrow at some point; speculation is pointing to the possibility that he has obtained divorce records for the Obamas, whom one book has claimed almost divorced in the turmoil after Mr. Obama’s congressional defeat at the hands of Bobby Rush. As for Allred, speculation exists that she endeavors to make public the sworn testimony of a woman a young Mitt Romney talked out of anabortion. Neither of these potential scoops has much potential to change the race at this point. But that we are still talking about the potential emergence of October surprise ignores a likelier possibility: we have already had it. What, then, could it be? Well, take a look at the Real ClearPolitics poll of polls. Notice an inflection point around October 3rd. Gee, what happened then?

If the first presidential debate was the October surprise, then the Obama campaign can look up and down Mitt Romney’s peculiarly unblemished record (the man doesn’t even drink coffee, for goodness sakes), and probably not find anything better than the infamous “47 percent” video released by a liberal publication several weeks ago. Interestingly, the masterminds of that video failed to realize that putting it out too early would dilute its effectiveness (or perhaps they just wanted to help Obama escape gravity).

Even so, don’t put anything past Team Obama--again, not his "regular" campaign, but his "oppo researchers." They’ve been playing dirty for years now, having shepherded the release of embarrassing, previously private information about their political opponents at electorally convenient times for two weeks now. And now that President Obama is now lagging in many polls, prepare for some good old-fashioned desperation. My guess? Somehow, somewhere, someone in the progressive movement will attempt to bludgeon Romney with his Mormon faith. But wait…the guy who came to Washington as a bipartisan—nay, a postpartisan healer would never let that happen….right? Right? Right?

Hang in there, folks. It's going to be a long two weeks. 

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