Let us examine the history of “October surprise,” a phrase that emerged 40 years ago when Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter for the White House. At the time, Reagan publicly expressed concern about “a mud-slinging campaign against him by President Carter and an ‘October surprise’ designed to bolster the President’s reelection prospects,” The Los Angeles Times noted on July 26, 1980.
Two days later, Time magazine proclaimed that Reagan expected Mr. Carter to “pull what they call ‘the October surprise,’ meaning that shortly before Election Day, Carter will inflate the importance of some overseas event in an attempt to rally the country around him.”
These days, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the “October surprise” like this: “A revelation disclosed in the month prior to an election, often orchestrated in the hopes of dramatically influencing the result.”
Now we must make room, however, for an earlier surprise, Politico now cites “Woodward’s September surprise” — which is, of course, Bob Woodward’s