The October Surprise: Readers Respond
How will Clinton try to influence the November election?

The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Since Labor Day we've been running an October Surprise contest, asking our readers to guess what President Clinton will do to influence the campaign. It's now October, and the deadline for entries is past. We posted a total of 716 submissions from readers, some of whom predicted more than one October Surprise. Steve Eggleston of Oak Creek, Wis., listed 31--one for each day of the month.

By far the most popular prediction, cited in 80 entries, was a military action involving Iraq. This forecast has a basis in history, for Operation Desert Fox, Mr. Clinton's December 1998 strike against Iraq, was as conveniently timed as it was oddly named. But if the president thinks dropping a few bombs on Saddam will make the difference on Election Day, he might remember that Desert Fox succeeded in postponing impeachment by all of one day, and that military victory against Iraq didn't save President Bush in 1992.

Two predicted October Surprises have already become September Surprises. Forty-two readers cited a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, though some did so after President Clinton ordered one on Sept. 22. Frank Fahey of Baltimore was the first, in an entry posted Sept. 7. And several readers cited regulatory approval of the abortion drug RU-486, though only Peter Capra of Rocky Hill, Conn., did so before the Food and Drug Administration acted last Thursday.

We tallied the results and divided them into categories. Here are the top 10:

1. War (156 entries). After Iraq, the most often cited enemies were China (23), Yugoslavia (16) and Colombia (6). Three readers suggested--tongue-in-cheek, we hope--that Mr. Clinton would launch a military strike against Texas. In a similar vein, C. Hosmer of Boise, Idaho, said Mr. Clinton would "nuke Utah and blame it on the Mormons for being 'Intolerant.' "

2. Intervention in the oil market (83). Along with a release from the SPR, 10 readers predicted Mr. Clinton would strike a deal with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, eight said he'd cut the federal gas tax, and five said he'd impose new price regulations.

3. Attack on Gov. Bush, other Republicans or Clinton critics (78). Forty-five readers said this would take the form of the spreading of rumors or dirt about Mr. Bush or his allies. Twenty-nine predicted government investigations and seven went so far as to say Mr. Bush or other Clinton critics would be arrested. Our most worrisome entry came from Charles Hyde of Indianapolis: "The editorial board and columnists of The Wall Street Journal will be rounded up in late October and charged with sedition, treason, and/or hate-thought crimes against Al Gore and the Clintons."

4. Domestic confrontation (51). Forty-six readers predicted President Clinton would force a government shutdown and then blame it on Republicans. Hey, it worked in 1995.

5. Personal matters (47). The most popular prediction in this catchall category was a marital split for the Clintons, cited by eight readers. Others included a Clinton apology or religious conversion, a Gore-style kiss between the Clintons, and the revelation of another extramarital affair (after all, Monica Lewinsky did wonders for those job-approval ratings). One of the funniest entries came from Allan Radman of Aptos, Calif.: "Hillary, Tipper and Hadassah will all announce that they are pregnant. And, in a moment of confusion, Al Gore will announce on 'Larry King Live' that he too is pregnant. At the same time, Geraldo Rivera will attack Gov. Bush for not being pregnant." Note: This category would have placed higher had we not rejected the really tasteless entries.

6. An ethnic pander (45). Far and away the most popular prediction in this category, cited by 27 readers, was a pardon for Jonathan Pollard, the spy for Israel, to shore up New York's Jewish vote for Hillary. A very distant second, with four entries, was a move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Only about a dozen readers cited actions aimed at winning black or Hispanic votes; these included demagoguing on behalf of minority judicial nominees, banning "racial profiling" by executive order and ending naval bombing at Puerto Rico's Vieques range.

7. Stepping down (44). Thirty-three readers predicted that Mr. Clinton would resign the presidency to give Mr. Gore the advantage of running as an incumbent. Another 11 readers predicted that Mr. Clinton would step down temporarily for reasons of physical or mental health, allowing Mr. Gore to act "presidential."

8. Peace (39). Mr. Clinton will strike a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, 33 readers thought. Two readers each predicted Korean reunification and a peace agreement in Yugoslavia, and one, Chitra Khurana of Bombay, India, suggested wistfully that perhaps peace was in the offing in Kashmir--"but I guess it is easier to get the moon."

9. An extended Clinton term (37). Twenty-seven readers predicted that Mr. Clinton would declare martial law or a state of emergency and cancel the election--a rather farfetched notion. Others thought Mr. Clinton would ignore, reinterpret or seek repeal of the 22nd Amendment limiting him to two terms.

10. Rapprochement (36). The Elian Gonzalez mess led 27 readers to predict normalization of relations with Cuba. The political calculus, however, would seem to argue against this; Cuban-American voters are a crucial constituency in Florida and New Jersey, while it's hard to imagine cigar smokers or communist sympathizers making the difference in any key state. Seven readers also predicted reconciliation with Iraq and four with Vietnam, a nation Mr. Clinton plans to visit after the election.

Early in November we will announce 10 winners of the contest, each of whom will receive a one-year subscription to The Wall Street Journal Online. For now, the ball is in Mr. Clinton's court. Just about anything he does will have been anticipated by at least one of our contestants. So go ahead, Mr. President--surprise us.

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