5 October surprises that could tip election

The debates are only part of the equation. Other events in the closing days of the campaign could easily be key factors.

By The Fiscal Times Oct 16, 2012 7:53AM

The Fiscal Times logo By Eric Pianin

Republican nominee Mitt Romney demonstrated without question that debates could alter the narrative of a high stakes presidential campaign -- and there are still two more to go before the Nov. 6 election. A badly scarred President Obama will have a chance on Tuesday to regain his equilibrium and slow Romney's surge in the polls with a strong performance at a town hall meeting style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

"Governor Romney had a good night; I had a bad night," Obama told ABC News' Diane Sawyer last week in describing his politically disastrous encounter in Denver Oct. 3. "If you have a bad game you just move on, you look forward to the next one, and it makes you that much more determined."

Tens of millions of Americans will be tuning in tomorrow evening to find out whether the heretofore lethargic chief executive can spring to life and get the better of Romney in their second encounter. Vice President Joe Biden demonstrated in his showdown last Thursday against Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan that Democrats still have plenty of fire in their bellies, even though the GOP lawmaker was unflappable.

But regardless of their outcome, the debates are only part of the equation in determining who the next president will be. Other events in the closing days of the race could easily deliver that classic October Surprise. As the recent violent anti-U.S. protests throughout the Middle East and the terrorist attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other government employees showed, unforeseen events can rapidly change the complexion of the campaign.

The Obama administration gave the GOP an opening by allowing constantly shifting public explanations for what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11 when militants attacked two U.S. compounds in the eastern Libyan city.  Romney and congressional Republican leaders cited the deaths of the four Americans as evidence of a security breach and failed administration policies in the tumultuous Middle East.

By contrast, Obama's claim that the long-suffering economy is improving was greatly buttressed by an Oct. 5 Labor Department report reporting that the unemployment rate dipped below 8 percent for the first time in his tenure.

"Debates count, but events in the real world can count more," said John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist with the Claremont McKenna College in California.
With the political calendar rapidly winding down to only 23 days before the election, there are a handful of other events that could help or hurt Obama and Romney as they struggle for control of the White House.

A final round of national employment numbers. The Labor Department will issue the October jobs report just four days before Election Day.  Democrats gleefully celebrated the September numbers, showing a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, and a subsequent release that put new claims for jobless benefits fell at their lowest level in more than four and a half years. Another upbeat report helps the president seal his argument that his economic policies are working.

State-by-state unemployment numbers on Oct. 23. While the national jobless numbers are an important index of the recovery as a whole, unemployment in individual states gives a fuller reading of the situation in decisive battlegrounds such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.  The Romney campaign is desperate to overcome Obama's lead in Ohio, a state that every Republican presidential nominee had to carry to win the election. The economy has bubbled back to life in the Buckeye state, where the unemployment rate is currently 7.2 percent, well below the national average.

Layoffs. This has been another bad year for layoffs, with more than 352,185 people laid off or fired, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a major employee outplacement firm. Among the worst layoffs were 1,300 at Cisco Systems, 1,200 at Archer-Daniels-Midland, 1,000 at Texas Instruments and 1,000 at Patriot Coal, according to a report by Business Insider. Another round just before the election would be bad news for the president and good news for Romney.

This helps to explain why the Obama administration went to great lengths to discourage the aero space and defense industry from sending out tens of thousands of letters to employees just before the election warning of likely layoffs if Congress and the administration failed to block deep automatic cuts in the defense budget set to take effect in early January.

Lockheed Martin and other major defense contractors recently backed down from issuing layoff letters as required under federal law after the Obama administration promised to cover their severance costs in the event of sequestration. That decision was welcome news for Obama, who had faced the prospect of mass layoff warnings in Virginia and other battleground states just days before the election.

Earnings season. Obama rode to the White House in 2008 on a stock market crash — and third quarters earnings season gets into full gear on Monday with projections by FactSet that corporate revenues were flat and earnings fell by 2.7 percent. The S&P 500 index increased by 5.76 percent during that same period.

That leaves three possible scenarios to explain what happened: The Federal Reserve bolstered stocks by launching a third round of quantitative easing; companies will beat those negative projections; or investors will conclude the market is overvalued. A swing in stocks affects consumer confidence in a reelection where — this time — Obama would prefer a surging market. So far the market has seen weak earnings by aluminum-maker Alcoa and oil company Chevron, but a 36 percent jump in Q3 profits for the bank JP MorganChase to $5.71 billion.

The volatile Middle East. While the killings of Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda operatives have weakened the terrorist network, the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and the rise of groups affiliated with al Qaeda in the Middle East and North Africa presents a serious threat to U.S. security and interests. Another high profile attack against the U.S. before the election could enhance Romney's argument that Obama is a timid commander in chief who lacks an effective strategy for that region.

Pitney said the history of presidential campaigns is littered with last minute surprises at home and abroad that tipped the outcome of a close race. President Jimmy Carter's failed last minute efforts to end the prolonged Iranian hostage crisis helped Republican Ronald Reagan unseat him in 1980. The 2008 economic crisis coming at the tail end of the Bush administration dealt a fatal blow to the candidacy of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

A stock market crash, another serious flare up in the Middle East or a worsening of the European debt crisis later this month could further harm Obama's bid for reelection. Pitney said that even with continued improvement in the unemployment picture it would be hard to imagine another economic event that would dramatically improve the president's standing before Election Day.

"Perceptions on the economy are largely fixed, so it would take a pretty big event to change them dramatically," Pitney said. "And big events are likely to be unfavorable to the president."

Eric Pianin is the Washington Editor at The Fiscal Times. Subscribe to The Fiscal Times free newsletter.

More from The Fiscal Times

Oct 24, 2012 8:50PM
POTUS George Bush initiated the SOFA (Status of Force Agreement) with Iraq under DOD and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the helm. This document set the withdrawal timeline for US troops out of IRAQ and was approved by the Iraqi parliament in November of 2008 BEFORE President elect Obama took office. I wish the claim that the current President ended the Iraq war would be communicated to the US public correctly . Yes I was also there when OIF became OND on only my 2nd Iraq tour. God bless those who deployed once or 5 or 6 times and there families. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is also getting a 2nd wind......
Oct 22, 2012 1:49PM
It is so tiring to read so many LIES about Obamacare.  Anyone who actually runs a small business can tell you that we are ripped off the most on health insurance.  Want an example, here we go:

6 person CPA firm, healthy people, AVERAGE SINGLE PREMIUM $10,500/YR.  We actually believe in families and offer family coverage.  Cost - $13,800/ YR.

Founder and wife retired, wife under 65.  Wife's premium before retirement at CPA firm $850/mo. for single coverage.  Wife obtains individual policy from SAME insurance company and gets EXACT SAME POLICY for $352/mo.

Tell me again how bad Obamacare will be when all premiums will have to be the same for the same coverage.

Oct 19, 2012 8:28AM

Romney is a used car salesmen, a political opportunists. Say anything to get power.....


Romney will use the plan as the Bushes with the same effects: 3 Wars, super debts, super recessions and housing crisis .


Mitts kids won't be drafted for his Syria-Iran Wars your kids will be sent.

Oct 18, 2012 11:10PM
Oct 18, 2012 10:59PM
The more I read this hundred of posting here I come to the sad conclusion that our
country is in the worse political,  future and past economical situation, not only because of the Republican Party wrong political policies since Bush lies and Romney and Ryan politicals deceptions, but because the stupidity of us, the citizens, not capable of knowing what Party has the best for our protection, and interest for a better economy, and a better life even if it takes some time! We had a serious let down, and almost a total economical disaster having two wars provoked by Bush at a terrible cost of many trillion of dollars, plus the abuses of the Rich making billion with the wars and the blood of our braves in the war zone. We keep voting wrong, and all of us will one day be in the bread lines with our Republicans signs " Romney/Ryan"  for President", to cover from the rain pouring on our heads! America, wake-up, vote for any other Party, Independent or Democrats, but do not repeat a mistake that will bring tragic consequences to our family, our seniors in Medicare, and Social Security, vote Republican and it will be nothing left of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid in few years for the middle class and the poor, but complete control of the rich over the middle class. Women will work for nothing, and in less than a year we all be very sorry we gave the vote to the greatest lairs on earth Romney and Ryan the liar!
Oct 18, 2012 9:45PM

Responses on the articles here and the responses submitted have a LOT more validity than media polls attempting to sway elections to their liking.

Read and make your own opinion.

ROMNEY is WAY ahead.

Oct 18, 2012 2:17PM

I find it interesting that everytime I read responses to those articles they are completely partisans.

If only the american voters would stop bickering and understand that neither candidate has the right answer to our woes. Woes that were created and amplified over the past 30 years by various administrations.

If they stop bickering about political commercial sound bites that do not achieve a thing they would realize the following:

-Increasing taxes on the "rich" without cutting spending will not achieve any thing

-Cutting spending without increasing taxes will not achieve anything

-5 years from now, many provisions in Obamacare will be considered a huge success, some will be failures, and most people against Obamacare will defend it (just like most people today defend social security, medicare and so on)

-Presidents have very little influence on the price of oil in the short term

-Additionnal drilling may feels good, but will not decrease the price of oil immediately

-Presidents don't actually create jobs, companies do. They influence the economy with the appropriate policies

-The US are governed in the center, Republicans and Democrats needs to get along most of the time

Unfortunately, telling the truth does not win elections. This is what a candidate should tell us:

The next 4 years are going to be difficult. We need to increase the revenue (taxes, reform the tax code) and decrease he deficits (cut spendings including defense). In the meantime, we need to rebuild our infrastructure that is crumbling, rebuild out manufaturing base, educate our children in a way that will allow them to cope with the challenges of tomorrow (and not the issues of the past), and make it affordable to everyone.

We need to deal with the arab world in a way that they see us not as a threat but as a mutual partner, adapt our military to the new threats ( local conflicts, terrorism...). We need to deal with the soaring cost of healthcare mostly due to unnecessary procedures, due to fear of litigation, our unhealthy way of life.

It will be hard, painful, but in the end tough decisions now are the only way to provide a better future for our children.



Oct 18, 2012 11:10AM

Threeforme:Your response is strange.My husband and I have a small business that`s

growing in an orderly upward swing.We belong to several small business organizations

and most say the same thing.Maybe you don`t have a good business plan.It sounds like your

politics  are getting the way of good business sense.The economy has really turned

in most areas of the country.

Oct 18, 2012 8:35AM

Romney is a used car salesmen, a political opportunists. Say anything to get into power.....

Send him back to work with the Corp Raiders at Bain....

Oct 17, 2012 5:03PM

Romney's $5T in tax cuts for the 1%'ers, $1T in using G W Bushes tax cuts and $2T in boosted defense spending for his 2013 WARS startup. He won't give the specifics of his tax cut loop holes so we can't know for sure if it's only $5T. He just won't let it go, just like his tax returns and his lake front ocean frt Malibu home.

At Bain he knew who he was putting the wood to to the last nickel. So what do we believe he is avaiding us as stupid 47 % ers or that he is just beleives we aren't going to hold him accountable for the $8T he talks about ???

Show him were not as stupid as he is. Take his Congress away or better yet vote him out.

Oct 17, 2012 8:39AM

If Romney wins he fires Ben Bernacke and the interest rates go up fast, as will inflation. It will kill the housing mkt. The extra 2$Trillion dollars for WARS in Syria, Iran and Russia will kill the economy and your kids. The stock market will buckle from the austherity programs and cuts from Romneyhood quick fix theories.


Dump your stocks as Romney will go backwards to start the Bush prgms to start losing 700k jobs per month as he lowers the 1% ers taxes while asking the 47% to pay more. It's the Bain forumula of management, Romneyhood.


Bain Mgt style of cut throat will rule the day. The people of Mass. have seen this guy in action and they hate him and his Bain style. They distrust him, Romney won't be getting Mass vote.

Oct 16, 2012 1:12PM

Sarah Palin a heart beat away from President is c-h-i-l-l-i-n-g.


Romney telling the 47%'ers they're trash/ victims and them thinking about voting for Mr Flip Flip from Bain corruption, even more c-h-i-l-l-i-n-g.


Guess Romney was right these 47% are or soon will be his Victims....

Oct 16, 2012 1:09PM
The Republicans never were champions of the middle class. All they have ever done is take away from the middle class and take care of the rich. Franklin Roosevelt was the champion of the middle class in the 30s and since that time all the republicans have done is try and dismantle everything he put in place to help them. Conservatives are in denial about some of the terrible things they have done to accomplish that fact.
Oct 16, 2012 12:18PM
Princeton Data Control most be polling the wrong people...I don't know anyone who feels this is true! Over the past week I have spoken with three friends/neighbors who all said they will have to shrink their business (equipment rental, restuarant, and accountant) if Obama is re-elected due to the crushing Obamacare provisions.  All planned to drop employee numbers below 50 and keep them all at part time status....Obama and his policies are anti-business and as a result awful for the economy.
Also does anyone know how to spell or read DEFICIT!!!   China owns us and we will be Spain or Greece 2.0 if Obama is reelected! Bernanke can only run the money printing press at the Fed for so long....nothing is making sense in the stock market and it is sure to tank soon!

For our kids future vote Romney/Ryan!

Oct 16, 2012 11:51AM
What has obama done to deserve reelection. I wont be voting for him again does that make me a racist ?
Oct 16, 2012 11:37AM

DETROIT (AP) - The U.S. operations of electric car battery maker A123 Systems filed for bankruptcy protection and its automotive assets are being acquired by Johnson Controls for $125 million.

The announcement Tuesday comes one day after A123 warned in a regulatory filing that it likely would miss some debt payments and could be headed for bankruptcy court.

A123, based in Waltham, Mass., got a $249 million U.S. government grant to help it build a battery factory in Michigan.      Another 249 million down the drain!!!!!

Oct 16, 2012 11:15AM
"The 2008 economic crisis ... dealt a fatal blow to the candidacy of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona."

I'm not sure about the cause and effect here.  Independent voters figuring out that Sarah Palin would be one heart attack away from the Oval Office if they won had to factor in, too.
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