In presidential election years, it has become commonplace to expect an ‘October surprise.’ Sometimes it can be a relatively benign event, such as the news on the eve of the 2000 campaign that George W. Bush was arrested for a DUI back some 25 years earlier. Alternatively, it can be a major announcement such as when President Lyndon Johnson called a halt to U.S. bombings in North Vietnam a week before the 1968 election.
Might be WikiLeaks
This year promises to hold another October surprise. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has already pledged to release documents related to Hillary Clinton before the election.
People involved in that election [U.S. presidential election] have a right to understand who it is they are electing. We have a lot of page of material, thousands of pages...it's a variety of different types of documents from different types of institutions associated with the election campaign, some quite unexpected angles that are quite interesting and some that are entertaining. — Julian Assange, WikiLeaks
President Obama could produce surprise
There is the possibility that President Obama could have a surprise up his sleeve in foreign policy. The U.S. is reportedly getting ready for an attack on the ISIS stronghold in Mosul in October, and yesterday the Pentagon announced that 600 additional American troops are on their way to Iraq.
Most Americans don’t know any of this, but they might learn all about it in October. The big question, of course, is what the fight for Mosul might mean to the presidential campaign. This will likely depend on how the fight goes. If the fight begins in October, but is not decisively over by Election Day, it’s really anyone’s guess how it will affect the race. If the Iraqis win back Mosul and expel the Islamic State by the time people in America vote, it would obviously be a big feather in President Obama’s cap, and would likely help Hillary Clinton by giving her a “see, the plan is working” talking point to use. — Chris Weigant, Huffington Post
Host of potential international surprises
There is a whole host of potential international surprises that are on the horizon. Russia has just announced it is sending additional warplanes to Syria after President Obama joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in describing the Syrian and Russian bombings in Aleppo as “barbarous.” There is a widening banking crisis surrounding Deutsche Bank that has some talking of another Lehman Brothers-style banking crisis which could shock the financial markets over the next few weeks.
Ever-present threat of terror attacks
There is the ever-present threat of a terrorist attack either in the U.S. or elsewhere that could shock the world. Or, another police shooting in the U.S. could inflame racial tensions.
Any or all of these events could have an impact on influencing the outcome of the November 8 election. It is, of course, impossible to predict ahead of time which, if any, might occur and what the effect on the results of the election might be.
History of previous October surprises
Here’s a brief history of previous October surprises that may have had an effect on the U.S. presidential election:
1964 — Johnson vs. Goldwater: A sex scandal involving a top aide to President Lyndon Johnson was reported just weeks before the election. Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev resigned on October 14. China detonated its first nuclear weapon on October 16. LBJ won the election.
1968 — Humphrey vs. Nixon: Just days before the election President Lyndon Johnson announced a bombing halt in North Vietnam to help his vice president, Humbert Humphrey. Humphrey got a slight bump in the polls but ended up losing to Nixon.
1972 — Nixon vs. McGovern: On October 26, 1972, Henry Kissinger announced that “peace is at hand” in the Vietnam conflict. Nixon was already way ahead in the polls and won in a landslide.
1980 — Carter vs. Reagan: Iran announced just days ahead of the election that it would not release the 52 hostages that had been detained for more than a year. The hostages were later released just minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
1992 — Bush vs. Clinton: Four days before the election, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense was implicated by Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh in the Iran-Contra scandal. Clinton won the election.
2000 — Gore vs. Bush: Days before the election it was leaked that George W. Bush had been arrested for a DUI back in 1976. Bush won in a historically close election over Al Gore.
2004 — Bush vs. Kerry: On October 29, a video was aired in which Osama bin Laden claims responsibility for the 9/11 attack. The video put the ‘war on terror’ back in the public eye. Bush won.
2008 — Obama vs. McCain: Four days before the election the AP reported that a half-aunt of Barack Obama was living as an illegal immigrant in Boston and had previously been ordered to leave the U.S. in 2004, but had gone into hiding. Obama won the election.
2012 — The week before the election Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the U.S. President Obama was widely credited by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for his efforts. Obama won reelection.
We’ll know within the next six weeks if there will be a 2016 addition to this list. However, it would seem a safe bet to assume that there will be at least one, if not more.