Video: October surprise

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updated 10/27/2004 1:58:24 PM ET 2004-10-27T17:58:24

Part of the folklore of presidential campaigns is the “October surprise.”  And less than a week before the election, the unexpected is indeed happening.

With Chief Justice William Rehnquist battling thyroid cancer , the Supreme Court’s possible handling of abortion rights is back in this campaign.

That’s almost already been eclipsed by the news from Iraq: 11 Iraqi soldiers have been kidnapped, following the execution-style murders of 50 Iraqis over the weekend.

Investigations are also underway into the 380 tons of high explosives missing and possibly in the hands of terrorists.

Kerry at the beginning of his speech Tuesday said, “Just as the Bush Administration’s failure to secure Iraq’s borders has led to thousands of terrorists flooding into the country, their failure to secure those explosives threatens American troops and the American people.”

For their part, the Bush campaign is highlighting an NBC News report that the explosives were already missing when U.S. soldiers went to the depot early in the war.

The president tried to fend off Kerry by portraying him as opportunistic and weak. On Tuesday, Bush said Senator Kerry has turned his back on “pay any price,” and “bear any burden.” He’s replaced those commitments with “wait and see,” and “cut and run.”

Traditionally, an October surprise is seen as a last-minute political trick to try to influence an election.

In 1972, Henry Kissinger said that peace was at hand in Vietnam as his boss, Richard Nixon, sought a second term.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s campaign worried that President Carter would somehow engineer a last-minute release of the American hostages in Iran.

On the Friday before the 1992 election, Iran Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicted President Bush’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinburger

And four years ago, an old drunk driving arrest involving George W. Bush came out 5 days before the election.

This year, Democrats have speculated about a last-minute Bush administration effort to capture of Osama Bin Laden.

But so far, the surprise developments have cut against Pres. Bush. The chaos in Iraq has made it harder for the president to argue that things are getting better. And in the highly-charged atmosphere of the final days, every problem in Iraq seems to be getting magnified.

But there are still five days to go. And with this election so close, both campaigns are on pins and needles as they wonder what story beyond their control—might come out next.

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