In election years pundits often discuss the "October surprise": an event that occurs the month before Election Day that changes the dynamic of the race. In 2008, it was the financial meltdown. Did 2012 have an October surprise?
At the end of September, President Barack Obama seemed to be headed to an easy re-election. Now, just five days before the election, the race appears tied. What happened in October to cause that change? Here are three possible October surprise candidates:
A Sept. 11 terrorist attack on an American embassy complex in Benghazi, Libya led the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The attack appeared to contradict the Obama campaign theme that terrorists are "on the run." Additionally, after the attack, the Obama administration provided misleading and inconsistent information about the cause of the attack.
The White House press secretary and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice both initially claimed that the attack was a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim YouTube video and avoided calling it a terrorist attack. In the third presidential debate, though, Obama claimed that he called it a terrorist attack the day after the attack happened, which left many to wonder why he and other administration officials continued to blame the video for two weeks after the attack.
More recently, reports have surfaced that Ambassador Stevens and other embassy officials warned that their lives were in danger and more security was needed. Those requests were denied and the number of security personnel were actually reduced the month prior to the attack.
During the Benghazi scandal, Obama's advantage on foreign policy has dropped from 15 percentage points over Romney in mid-Sept. (53 to 38 percent) to eight percentage points over Romney in late Oct. (50 to 42 percent), according to Pew Research Center.
The First Debate
Obama and Biden won three of the four debates, according to polls, but the only debate that seemed to make a significant difference in the trajectory of the race was the first one, which Romney won by a large margin.
In a CNN/ORC poll immediately after the debate, 67 percent said that Romney won, the highest it has ever been since that poll question began in 1984.
The Oct. 3 Real Clear Politics average of polls had Obama leading by 3.1 percentage points (49.1 to 46 percent). Six days later, Romney was leading 48 to 47. With the exception of three days, Oct. 19-21, when Obama led, and Nov. 1 when the race is tied, Romney has led in the Real Clear Politics average since then.
It is too early to tell what political impact Hurricane Sandy may have. It could influence turnout in the regions that are still without power. There is an argument that this could hurt Obama in Pennsylvania.
On the other hand, Obama's handling of the crisis has been widely praised, even by Republican and Romney supporter Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. This may bode well for Obama among some undecided voters.
Time will tell whether Hurricane Sandy was the "October surprise" that influenced the outcome of the election.