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Facts Matter More Than Strategy

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (Oct. 3) -- It's a month until the November election, and President Bill Clinton has been in the lead now since January. Could something happen to turn things around in this final month?

This week's question asks, what's likely to have the biggest impact during the last month of a campaign?

Is it...

A) A debate gaffe?

B) A drop in the stock market?

C) An "October surprise" in international policy?

D) A new attack ad?

E) A scandal involving a presidential adviser?

And the answer is....C) an "October surprise" in international policy.

Facts are more important than campaign tactics in determining how an election turns out -- things like the condition of the economy, the state of world affairs, or leadership coming out of the White House.

Campaign tactics matter only when the facts are mixed and the outcome could go either way. A so-called "October surprise" is a change in the facts, a bold stroke in world affairs.

That may have been what President Clinton was aiming for when he called this week's Mideast summit. But it didn't change the facts very much, so the summit probably won't have much impact on the election.

Every election year, people talk about an October surprise in international policy. But when has there ever really been one?

In 1980, a lot of people expected a last-minute move by President Jimmy Carter to secure the release of the hostages in Iran. Political figures were glued to their TV sets the weekend before the election, watching hopefully -- or fearfully -- for an announcement. But it didn't happen. The facts did not change.

In October 1972, Richard Nixon trotted out Henry Kissinger to announce "peace is at hand" in Vietnam. That was sort of an anticipatory fact. The war didn't end for another 2 1/2 years.

The fact is, there never really has been an "October surprise" in international policy. It's just something politicians like to fantasize about: "What would it really take to turn this election around?"

Viewer Answers:

"A Crash Of The Stock Market"

The biggest impact on the race would be a crash of the stock market. Voters nowadays don't care as much about character, morality, associates, but rather things that affect them personally.

-- Carol Durham

"A Debate Gaffe"

A debate gaffe would have the biggest impact because just about the only way that Dole can now become competitive is for Clinton's credibility to be damaged. While an "October Surprise" would benefit Clinton, Clinton doesn't need any dramatic action right now because he already has a sizeable lead that would be unprecedented for a challenger to overcome. However, if Clinton slips and reveals a previously undisclosed liberal agenda for his next term, or if Dole unveils a dramatic piece of ammunition against Clinton that he's been holding back, the dynamics of this race could change. At this point, little else could enhance Dole's chances in any significant way.

-- Ken Falkenstein

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