- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Both Republicans and Democrats fear it. Each side suspects the other of planning one, but officials with the campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry deny any such thing.

It’s the “October surprise,” the late-breaking news event with a whiff of partisan conspiracy that can tilt an election one way or the other.

Some Democrats have accused Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign of conspiring with the regime in Iran to extend a hostage crisis that damaged President Carter’s standing. In 1992, Republicans cried foul when — after six years of Iran-contra investigations and on the Friday before Election Day — independent counsel Lawrence Walsh announced a new indictment of Caspar W. Weinberger, secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

Four years ago, just five days before Election Day, a Democratic operative in Maine alerted the press to a previously unreported 1976 drunken-driving citation for George W. Bush.

This year, with the help of the Internet, rumors of pending October surprises are flying on both sides of the partisan divide.

One such rumor has it that the Kerry campaign is about to spring evidence that Mr. Bush somehow was “wired,” so aides could instruct him during the debates.

Among Democrats, the rumor for months has been that the Bush administration will announce the capture of Osama bin Laden days before the election.

“Half the Democrats I know really believe we have Osama bin Laden somewhere in Crawford, Texas,” said Charles Black, longtime adviser to Republican presidential campaigns.

Among those who have suggested such a scenario is Teresa Heinz Kerry, who told Democrats at an Arizona fund-raiser last month that she “wouldn’t be surprised” if bin Laden “appeared” before the election. Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, also reportedly said in December that the Bush administration knew bin Laden’s whereabouts and was waiting for a politically opportune moment to announce his capture — although she later said her remark had been meant as a joke.

The Bush campaign says it would never stoop to springing an October surprise on Mr. Kerry. Nor, they say publicly, is the president’s team fretting about any surprises the Kerry campaign might have for Mr. Bush.

“I think, on some level, there is concern about some sort of October surprise,” said Bush campaign spokesman Brian Jones. “But we not going to be preoccupied with the unknown.”

A top Kerry official says it is unlikely that the White House would pull any trick in the final two weeks of the campaign.

“True October surprises manufactured for an election aren’t possible,” said Mike McCurry, an adviser to the Kerry campaign. “I don’t think you can get away with that as president.”

If someone tried to manufacture such a surprise, Mr. McCurry said, a leak within the federal bureaucracy would expose it.

Leaks from the bureaucracy are a worry to some Republicans, who say there are rumors that disgruntled Central Intelligence Agency personnel are planning to divulge information that they hope will damage Mr. Bush’s re-election effort.

Team Bush is loath to talk about the last five days of the 2000 campaign, when Mr. Bush’s lead in opinion polls over Democrat Al Gore evaporated after it was revealed, on the Thursday before the election, that Mr. Bush had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol 24 years earlier near his family’s retreat in Maine.

There was no evidence that the Gore campaign had masterminded the revelation, but some Republicans say news of the 1976 drunken-driving conviction accounted in part for a lower-than-expected turnout of evangelical Christian voters, which, in turn, might have cost Mr. Bush a majority of the popular vote and helped produce the Florida recount dispute.

Stephen Dinan, traveling with the Kerry campaign, contributed to this report.

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