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Updated: A History Of October Surprises

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Days before the 2000 presidential election, a DUI charge from 1976 surfaced against then-Governor George W. Bush. Later that day, he admitted to the charge and said he had given up drinking alcohol for many years.

One could argue we've already seen 3-4 October surprises during the 2020 Presidential election cycle. On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by presidential historians Tim Walch and Tim Naftali. They’ll recall October surprises from the past in presidential campaigns going back to the middle of the 20th century.

Unexpected events late in a presidential election year can be decisive. This hour, a history of so-called “October surprises.”

As you'll hear in this conversation, the final days before election day have a long, divisive and complicated history. For example, in 2014, Jimmy Carter told a CNBC reporter that if he would have been able to free American hostages in Iran days before the 1980 election his chances of defeating Ronald Reagan would have increased.


Tim Walch, director emeritus of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Tim Naftali, clinical associate professor of history and public service at New York University

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River