October, yes. Surprise, no.

Al Kamen
Columnist October 24, 2012

With less than a week left until we flip a page on the calendar, it’s inevitable that folks like political dabbler Donald Trump would be ginning up an October surprise guaranteed to shake the presidential race to its very core.

But at least in recent years, most trumped-up “October surprises” aren’t all that surprising — and, most important, they haven’t ultimately swayed election outcomes.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

In 2000, a scant five days before voters headed to the polling booths, it came out that George W. Bush was arrested for drunken driving in the ’70s. He still won. (Adviser Karl Rove said the revelation cost Bush evangelical votes, and he lost the popular vote, but still, a win’s a win.)

People often refer to the economic collapse in 2008 as that race’s October surprise — but the financial crisis began in September. So it’s disqualified.

Another supposed 2008 October surprise was the shocker that Obama had a half-aunt who was an illegal immigrant. (Cue the crickets.)

In recent times, most everything of note in October seems to get labeled a surprise, even if it’s not a bombshell revelation or something that can alter a race.

Perhaps that’s why Trump could hype offering 5 million bucks if Obama releases his school transcripts as his own “October surprise.”

In the good old days, Stephen Hess , who served in the Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon administrations, recalls a bona fide October surprise at the end of the 1956 campaign, when the Soviets invaded Hungary while Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt.

Now, that’s a game-changer. “A real October surprise is something that happens in a close election that could really make a difference,” Hess says.

From a world on the brink of war to a swirly haired TV star’s publicity stunt, the October surprise — or what’s described as one — sure has changed.

Who cares? They do.

The viewership numbers for the final presidential debate are rolling in, and it looks as though this one wasn’t quite the must-see-TV event that the first two debates were. But there was interest from some unlikely quarters.

Perhaps because of baseball playoffs and “Monday Night Football” — or was it because this presidential face-off was a relatively dull affair, filled with tedious talk of counterfeit valves and the like? — it garnered only 59.2 million viewers for U.S. networks, down from 66 million for the second debate and 67 million for the first.

Even in the Middle East, the region that dominated the discussion between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, the reaction was mostly yawns, our colleagues Michael Birnbaum and Keith Richburg report. Israel and Iran apparently had better things to do than tune in.

And in Egypt, folks had more immediate concerns, such as whether the country has a working legislature.

Minor stuff.

The Chinese, though, were all ears, with plenty of interest, especially since live Internet streaming of the debate started at a convenient time, 9 a.m.

And the yap-fest did attract some viewers with a distinct stake in U.S. foreign policy — apparently, some detainees at Gitmo eagerly tuned in to watch the dust-up in Boca Raton, Fla. Two cellblocks of detainees watched on TV, while another cellblock listened to the radio broadcast.

Holder on hold

There’s been some recent buzz that Attorney General Eric Holder may be sticking around a bit longer than we’d heard last month.

Word then was that Holder would be leaving even if President Obama won reelection, perhaps next summer or fall. The thinking was that he wouldn’t want to leave Jan. 20 because some might think his detractors on the Hill — led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — had driven him out.

But more recently, we heard that Holder was thinking he might want to stay on until the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which would be July 2.

There’s some family involvement here. Holder’s late sister-in-law was Vivian Malone Jones , who sought to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963 but was blocked at the door by Gov. George Wallace (D).

But there’s some pushback from the home front, we’re hearing, with Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, urging him to move along.

On the other hand, we’re hearing that Obama would like to have him stay. Holder himself may be undecided.

Of course, a President Romney might just make that decision for him.

Timing is everything

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) got some tongues wagging on the Hill when it was learned that she was thinking of moving the party’s leadership elections to Dec. 5 — instead of the usual vote a week after the Nov. 6 general election.

The speculation was that she might not be running for the job, since a delay could give someone a chance to organize a challenge — to her or to her most likely successor, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.).

A Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday that the vote has now been set for Nov. 29. Hmm. Still some time for a challenger.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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