Surprise, It's October
Having not been able to do much to change the dynamics of the election cycle, Democrats are increasingly turning to personal attacks - the very kind of "smears" that the party bemoaned in the 2008 election.
But Republican operatives tell Power Play that there is some genuine concern that the Democratic opposition research effort may succeed in key races.
"Look at California," one GOP veteran of national campaigns, referring to Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, told Power Play. "One housekeeper problem and you can change the whole direction of the race."
Owing to the severity of the current Democratic deficit, the October surprises actually got started in September, as Democrats started dropping scandalous claims on Whitman and others.
Whoever is behind generally can be counted on to make it personal sooner. This doesn't mean policy ads - "She wants to cut Social Security" and "He voted with Nancy Pelosi 99 percent of the time - but claims like Democrat Rep. Alan Grayson made in Florida this week that his challenger, Daniel Webster, believes in subjugating women.
Democrats may have felt they had little choice but to start whacking at their challengers early this year. They've known for months that this year brings bad things for them, and poll after poll confirms it. For many strategists, disrupting the GOP trend line was most important.
But going negative early has one big downside - it wears off by the time the election comes. With so much early voting in swing states like Nevada and Ohio, that scandal half-life is somewhat mitigated.
But early voters aren't generally undecided voters. The persuadable ones will likely wait until the end to cast their ballots. If you make up your mind to drive to the county clerk's office on a Friday morning, you've probably got some political preferences.
Al Gore almost won the presidency in 2000 on the basis of the revelation a week before the election by a Democratic operative of George W. Bush's youthful DUI arrest in Maine. Had that nugget been laid bare in early October, voters likely would have grown weary of the story, that really lacked much scandalous pop and fit with Bush's own narrative of a misspent youth.
Expect to see the next two weeks bring much more in way of personal attacks and allegations of scandal. And especially with so much money floating around in hard-to-track outside groups, those attacks are likely to be pretty vicious.
But also remember that October surprises differ from other character attacks in a big way.
Connecticut Democratic Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal is paying a cumulative price for falsely claiming he served "in" Vietnam instead of "during" Vietnam. Those kinds of character questions linger and amplify later revelations. "Did Blumenthal fib about his position on global warming legislation? Hmmm. There was that time..."
An October surprise, meanwhile, is a stand-alone event that doesn't need much additional context to work. Ideally it reinforces what voters may already suspect about a candidate, but its main purpose is to be so shocking that it takes over the front pages for two or three crucial days, stopping a frontrunner's momentum, as it did to Bush in 2000.
Republicans tell Power Play that they are very worried that with a field of so many unknown candidates, so little time to vet them, a mainstream media enthusiastic to tell the tale of a GOP stumble and lots of money floating around, this month could be very surprising indeed.
"You just know there's some really wild [stuff] out there on some of these new candidates," said one GOP consultant.
The Day in Quotes
"People are frustrated, they're anxious, they're scared about the future. And they have a right to be impatient about the pace of change. I'm impatient. It took time to free the slaves,"
-- President Obama speaking to young Democrats at a hip-hop concert in Washington.
"I'd appreciate a little break and some Tuscan sun. Some pasta. I can use it."
-- President Obama at a $1 million fundraiser at the Washington home of Atlantic Media executive Linda Douglass needling his hostess about her not having invited him to the Italian villa she and her husband own.
"Let my people go. Let them go. Let them get back to work."
-- Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) responding to White House outrage over her decision to block the confirmation of a new budget boss until the president lifts a ban on offshore drilling.
"[I] can't win. When you're mayor, you make decisions and you alienate the people who don't like those decisions."
--NYC Mayor Bloomberg in response to question from FOX News colleague Chris Wallace at the Washington Ideas Festival on whether he'll run for president
"Arrogance, ego, out of control. A man who feels entitled. We're showing him that he's not entitled. He sent his bird dogs out after me for the last couple weeks and we sent every one of them back bloodied."-- Republican Carl Paladino, in a Fox Business Network interview, on Democrat Andrew Cuomo, his rival for New York governor."Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business. He said this. And everybody said, ‘Oh, he'll change when he gets in there.' I have more respect for him for not changing. This is what the public wanted and I think we should all pull behind the president and help him as much as we can."
--New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking at the Washington Ideas Festival.
"I subscribe to the theory that Arkansas is just Alabama waiting to happen."-- John Brummett, a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau to the New York Times on the rise of the Republican Party in traditionally Democratic Arkansas.
"I don't think the bill would have to be in existence."
-- White House press Secretary Robert Gibbs explaining why Republicans can hold "hostage" a tax bill that has not been written or introduced.
"But, you don't need the support of the Republicans in the House to pass anything."
--ABC News' Jake Tapper challenging White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' claim that Republicans were preventing action to stave off looming tax hikes.
"TV viewers should be able to watch their favorite programs without fear of losing their hearing when the show goes to a commercial."
-- Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) heralding the passage of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, one of the last items to make it to the Senate floor before the hasty adjournment of Congress.
"Those interviews you did didn't help."
-- Former Sarah Palin aide Nicolle Wallace to laughter when asked by CBS' Katie Couric at a book party what "ultimately went wrong" with the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.
"Don't match 'em, let 'em."
-- Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, quoted by Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan, advising Republican candidates to focus on the economy, taxes and spending, not be drawn into mud-slinging contests.
"I just want them to win."
--House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked by PBS' Judy Woodruff about the Democrats who tout their opposition to the speaker and her agenda.
Scandal Sheets - Whitmans Have Paperwork Problems; Cuomo's Rich Friends
Whitman Looks Bad on Paper
California Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman first said that neither she nor her husband had a notice from the federal government that her housekeeper, Nicky Diaz, was an illegal immigrant.
But Diaz's attorney, Democratic booster and fameball Gloria Allred, hit right back with a form, partially completed, that she says was sent to the Whitman home in 2003 - an IRS inquiry into Diaz's legal status when her tax withholding did not match a valid Social Security number.
Whitman's husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh, allows that the handwriting on the form might be his and that he might have given the form to Diaz and asked her to "look into it."
This scandal cuts several ways on Whitman and was well-timed by Allred to cause maximum damage.
It comes as the candidates prepare for their Spanish-language debate and Diaz has suggested that she was victimized by the Whitman family - unpaid mileage, no maternity leave, etc.
And denying any notification from the government only to say that there may have been some notification goes to trust issues.
Cuomo Cash Questioned
The Republican candidate for New York is accusing Democrat Andrew Cuomo this week of taking a "payoff" while he was housing secretary during the Clinton administration from a man who is a major political donor and now works for Cuomo's campaign.
Carl Paladino cites a company sued by the federal government and run by developer Andrew Farkas, who later hired Cuomo as an adviser for $1.2 million and remains a top campaign contributor and is now the campaign's finance chairman.Trail Riders - Paladino vs. Megyn; Hillary Could Compete; Women Move Toward GOP; Krauthammer on Attack Ads
2012 Watch - Hillary Competitive in Obama Challenge If Hillary Clinton were to mount a 2012 primary challenge to President Obama, she would be starting with the support of 37 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of female Democrats, according to a new Gallup poll.
The survey of Democratic voters nationally found Obama with a hardly invincible 52 percent in the primary matchup. And while he had the support of 63 percent of self-described liberals in the survey, he was under 50 percent with self-described moderates and conservatives.
Poll Check - Republicans Picking Up Support Among Women
Much has been said about the surge in support among men for Republicans this cycle, but a new Associated Press poll suggests that the problem for Democrats may also lie in lukewarm support among the female voters on which the party relies.Among women likely to vote, Democrats were only ahead by 5 points, the same as in 1994. The margin was more than 10 percent in 2006.
Men are expected by pollsters to favor Republicans by more than 10 points in next month's elections.
Fisher Thinking Endgame in OhioA campaign memo obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher considering some very drastic options to reverse his weeks-long slide against Republican candidate Rob Portman.The cash strapped campaign is considering firing 10 staff members, including its political director, in order to free up money for a last-minute TV blitz in the Cleveland area.
Follow the Money - Angle Gets Net Boost
Nevada Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle hauled in $1.7 million in online donations in September, according to her campaign. While Angle still trails incumbent Sen. Harry Reid in overall fundraising, the money should be enough to help ensure that she can stay on the air with ads in heavy rotation through Election Day.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"Look, advertising is legalized mendacity. When you see an ad in a football game that tells you essentially if you drink the right beer or you drive the right car, you are going to get chicks, nobody sues them on the grounds of false advertising. So everybody understands that.
Those are the rules of the game. I draw the line -- personal attacks on family or personal issues which I think are completely out of bounds. And that happens as well. But I think if it's on policy or how a person has conducted himself in office, absolutely OK."
-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier" setting the boundaries for political attack ads.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.