Hurricane Sandy brings 'October Surprise' for Election Day - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Sandy dumps super surprise on presidential race

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President Obama and Mitt Romney both made comments on Hurricane Sandy and offered condolences to the victims. However, it is still not clear what effects the storm will have on Election Day. (Source: CNN) President Obama and Mitt Romney both made comments on Hurricane Sandy and offered condolences to the victims. However, it is still not clear what effects the storm will have on Election Day. (Source: CNN)
A man attempts to break through a police line and heckles Iranian demonstrators in Washington D.C. during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980. (Source: Wiki Commons/Durova) A man attempts to break through a police line and heckles Iranian demonstrators in Washington D.C. during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980. (Source: Wiki Commons/Durova)

(RNN) – The time may have come to determine how the devastation on the East Coast compares to hostage negotiations or skeletons in a candidate's closet.

For nearly half a century of presidential elections, people have been on the lookout for the October Surprise – a noteworthy event in the days leading up to the election that could possibly affect the outcome.

This year the biggest factor on Election Day could be Hurricane Sandy, which has killed dozens of people so far and threatens to leave countless people without power through next week.

The storm is still causing destruction as it moves farther inland and is leaving unanswered question as well as leveled buildings: How will people vote if there is still no power in their area? Will they even have the motivation to vote after dealing with destroyed property, injuries or death? If there is significant decrease in poll turnout, how will it affect the popular vote?

But the biggest speculation right now is whether Congress will exercise its power to set an alternate date for the election. The answer is "not likely."

"I think that's pretty difficult to expect," said Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It could happen, but basically every state in the country would have to agree to go along with it, which might be difficult to pull off. That's the question were going to have to address in the next couple days."

Several states also have non-federal elections scheduled for Nov. 6, so changing the date for the presidential election is more complicated than just passing legislation on Capitol Hill.

Generally, the effect of an October Surprise is negligible, if not totally concocted in people's minds, depending on what side they're on.

One example is the 2000 race between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore.

Although Bush won the electoral vote 271-266, he lost the popular vote by more than a half million, the first time a winning candidate had lost the popular vote since 1888.

Days before the election, former Maine Democratic gubernatorial candidate Thomas J. Connolly said that Bush was arrested for drunk driving in that state nearly 25 years earlier.

Bush confirmed the arrest soon after, but controversy surrounding the voting and subsequent recount in Florida – where Bush's brother, Jeb, served as governor at the time – quickly overshadowed any previous news regarding the race.

"The 2000 announcement didn't cost Bush the election, but it certainly cost him the margin," presidential historian Richard Norton Smith told ABC News in an interview. "It could not have gotten any closer than it did."

Four years later with the events of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks still fresh on Americans' minds, Osama bin Laden released a tape in late October with this message: "Any state that does not mess with our security has naturally guaranteed its own security."

Between Oct. 31 and Election Day in 2004, Bush went from a virtual tie with Democratic challenger John Kerry to a victory margin of more than 3 million in the popular vote.

Events surrounding the 1980 election roused speculation that the campaign of the winning candidate, Republican challenger Ronald Reagan, struck a deal with the Iran government to let 52 American hostages go. Incumbent president Jimmy Carter appeared to have held favorable negotiations for the release of the prisoners, but as Election Day came and passed they were still in Iranian custody.

Reagan won the election, and Iran released the hostages minutes after his inauguration.

The Reagan-Carter race is perhaps the most infamous case of an October Surprise, but the term dates back further.

The issue came up in 1968, and the term came into more widespread use during the 1972 election.

The U.S. had realistic hopes the Vietnam War would end in the early 1970s, and the war drew high disapproval from a large number of Americans. Henry Kissinger, the national security advisor for Republican president Richard Nixon, announced the administration's belief of imminent peace almost two weeks before the 1972 election. The following January, Nixon was taking the oath for his second term in office, and active military action in Vietnam had ended.

Four years earlier, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were the primary contenders for office while the Vietnam War was still raging. Accusations arose that negotiations broke down because of political football played by both sides, especially Nixon's campaign, and he comfortably won the electoral vote despite a close race in the popular vote.

Hurricane Sandy is a bit different, however. This is an event no one has control over, and there is no doubt or speculation that this storm will have a dramatic effect on millions of American lives.

It is generally good not to read too much into the effect of an October Surprise, Skelley said, especially because so many of the theories result from accusations from people primarily on the losing side.

"There always will be people that think something happened because it was politically expedient for one side or the other," Skelley said. "But I think in a lot of cases it's just dumb luck or bad timing, depending on what side you're on. It's good to not oversell the idea of an October surprise. There are probably cases where things were done for political reasons, but sometimes that's out of control of people who are actors in the play."

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