October Surprises in US Presidential Elections

There seem to have been a lot of October Surprises in American Presidential elections since the 1940s. And there have been different types of October Surprises, for different reasons, and with different motivations. But have they ever seriously affected the election results? Our political history genius, Professor Philip Nash, explains all! Episode #386

Buzzkill Bookshelf

Joseph Cummins, Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises

Today’s political pundits express shock and disappointment when candidates resort to negative campaigning. But history reveals that smear campaigns are as American as apple pie. Anything for a Vote is an illustrated look at 200-plus years of dirty tricks and bad behavior in presidential elections from George Washington to G. W. Bush.

Highlights include:

1836: Congressman Davy Crockett accuses candidate Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing women’s clothing: “He is laced up in corsets!”

1912: Theodore Roosevelt is shot in the chest while preparing to give a campaign speech, then proceeds to deliver it anyway: “I don t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”

1960: President Harry Truman advises voters that “if you vote for Richard Nixon, you might go to hell!”

Arriving a full year before the 2008 presidential election, Anything for a Vote is a valuable reminder that history does repeat itself, that lessons can be learned from the past (though they usually aren’t), and that our most famous presidents are not above reproach when it comes to the dirtiest game of all political campaigning.

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