The Slatest

October Surprises Are Old News. Now They Happen in November.

Sen. Kay Hagan speaks at a campaign rally on Oct. 25, 2014, in Charlotte, North Carolina
Sen. Kay Hagan speaks at a campaign rally on Oct. 25, 2014, in Charlotte, North Carolina. That was before the Charlotte Observer dropped a November Surprise on her. 

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

American democracy has a long and rich history of October Surprises—late-breaking, kooky, potentially game-changing stories that don’t occur until a few weeks before Election Day. Matt Lewis lined up a few examples at the Daily Beast, including Hurricane Sandy and that McCain volunteer who carved the letter B on her face.

But forget October. Some of the craziest news stories of this cycle didn’t break until November. A few examples from the final days of the campaign:

First there’s Sen. Kay Hagan. The North Carolina incumbent Democrat is locked in a tight re-election bid that she looks likely to win, but that might have been trickier if a late-breaking (and then withdrawn) story from the Charlotte Observer had emerged earlier. Republicans have spent weeks criticizing Hagan because a business her husband owned received nearly $400,000 in stimulus money. Hagan voted for the stimulus and has faced accusations that that vote was a conflict of interest. But that’s not the November Surprise. The unexpected turn was when the Observer published a story on Nov. 2 reporting that Hagan’s family was being investigated because of those dealings and then pulled the story down after 20 minutes. (A local television station had first published the report and then removed it, and asked the Observer to do likewise.) That story and its removal drew instant attention from conservative media—Noah Rothman has a write-up at Hot Air with more details—and the Republican National Committee pushed a short report from a local Fox affiliate that said the politically connected company’s stimulus grants “had been referred to the state auditor for further legal review.”

In Southern California, Carl DeMaio, an openly gay Republican running for a House seat, had a rough news cycle on the same day Hagan did. The short version is that a Navy veteran and former member of his campaign staff went public with accusations that the candidate exposed himself to him in a bathroom. The long version is here—and isn’t any better for DeMaio.

In Iowa, a late-breaking Taylor Swift­–themed gaffe has put Democratic nominee Bruce Braley in an unenviable situation. BuzzFeed obtained video showing veteran Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin attacking Braley’s opponent, Republican Joni Ernst, by telling supporters that she “is really attractive” but that they shouldn’t care if she’s “as good-looking as Taylor Swift.” As a general rule, you don’t want to spend the final day of your Senate campaign explaining that your top surrogate isn’t a dopey sexist.

And incumbent Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who is fighting for his political life, got heckled and ridiculed by one of the Colorado Democratic Party’s top donors. The Guardian reported that while giving a speech to supporters that was high on enthusiasm and low on policy content, Udall said he was “proud to stand for reproductive freedom.”

“That’s not the only thing you stand for! Jesus Christ!” yelled the donor, millionaire businessman Leo Beserra.

The donor vented more to the Guardian after Udall’s speech.

“Who is running the worst campaign? Him,” Beserra said. “Because fucking abortion is all he talks about. He should not talk about it any more whatsoever. There are so many other issues.”

It’s official: We’ve entered the era of the November Surprise. Election Day may offer a few more.