Democrats might have a reason to be concerned over an “October surprise,” with reports of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holding onto a trove of documents taken from government sources. The anxiety sort of mirrors the 1980 election, when the term was popularized just weeks ahead of Election Day.

With American hostages being held in Tehran by the Iranians, the natural tendency was for citizens back home to rally around President Jimmy Carter in his efforts to have them rescued; this had happened twice during the course of the campaign, and any late news that Carter had been able to pry the Americans from their detention might’ve dealt a fatal blow to the Ronald Reagan campaign.


An angry American protests Iran amid the hostage crisis of 1979.

As late as the last week of October, a Gallup poll actually showed the incumbent with a lead over Reagan, adding to the Republicans’ anxiety that a timely rescue of the Americans would cost them the election.


A last-minute deal orchestrated by the Carter campaign, the Republicans worried, would have been the moment in October that the political trade winds would shift and put Carter in the lead for good.

No such “surprise” would happen, however. The captured Americans were finally released after more than 400 days in captivity, not long after Reagan was sworn in as president. In the run up to Election Day, word came from Tehran that all 52 hostages would remain in captivity until after the votes had been counted.

Of course, the timing of these events has fueled years of speculation that the Republican hero had, in fact, negotiated a deal with the Iranians to get into the White House – and it spawned successive stories of an October surprise in most elections ever since.

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