These potential October surprises could upend midterm elections

October surprises — typically identified as events or stories that have the potential to upend the election chances for a candidate or party — have been relevant to numerous presidential and midterm elections throughout American history, but whether there are any in store for the upcoming November races is a question political insiders are weighing.

Strategists from across the political spectrum insist there are a few events or stories that could drive voters to the polls, or away from them, in the Nov. 8 election.

While most of the insiders suggest that the largest October surprise has yet to come, some are weighing the impact that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will have on the midterm elections. Others conclude that billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter as it relates to political messaging, and President Biden’s tension with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, will affect the elections.

To better understand whether there’s potential for a prominent story or narrative to arise that could drive the news cycle and impact the upcoming midterm elections, Fox News Digital contacted political experts from both sides of the aisle to get their assessment.

From left to right: Billionaire Elon Musk, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Brett O’Donnell, president of O’Donnell & Associates, message and media strategist:

“Unlike presidential election years, mid-term elections tend to be more local with voters paying attention to the issues that are most salient in their own backyard. It turns out this year though that these issues are more common; the economy and inflation, crime, immigration, and abortion. It may come as a surprise to Democrats on election day that the economy, crime, and the border will be more important than abortion to independents and swing voters in the final calculus. But that is not the definition of an October surprise. It just makes sense that issues that confront all Americans every single day would weigh more than those with which they are not confronted with daily.”

“I fear that this mid-term’s October surprise may be far worse than any of previous cycles.  Joe Biden’s weakness has surely been on display in his handling of domestic issues, but it has been far worse in his handling of foreign policy. Biden’s weakness in Afghanistan emboldened our enemies and now has us on precipice of the unthinkable, Putin’s use of nuclear weapons after being backed in the corner by a US supported and effective Ukrainian military.”

“To be sure, it is important that Russia be confronted and defeated in Ukraine. But Biden’s reference to the current situation as a potential ‘Armageddon’ should shock us all and is more alarming than any rhetoric since the Cuban missile crisis of the 60s. At best, it is irresponsible on the part of the Commander in Chief to use such language and panic the American people, and at worst, demonstrates how fast a weak president can damage the deterrence of a major superpower and bring us to the brink of such a calamity.”

Brett O’Donnell, president of O’Donnell & Associates, message and media strategist

Brett O’Donnell, president of O’Donnell & Associates, message and media strategist
(Brett O’Donnell)

Jose Aristimuño, former deputy national press secretary for the DNC and founder of NOW Strategies:

“I think it’s possible that the Justice Department announces a prosecution against Donald Trump, or we could even see the January 6 Committee issue a report in October. Although both of these scenarios would be damaging to the former president, especially if he decides to run for president again, when it comes to the midterm elections, I don’t see those things having a major effect. Without a doubt, it’s the economy, gas prices, and the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade that will play a major role in November.”

Jose Aristimuño, former deputy press secretary for the DNC

Jose Aristimuño, former deputy press secretary for the DNC
(Jose Aristimuño)

Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute:

Elon Musk finalizes the purchase of Twitter in time for the midterm elections. It is now well understood how much influence the social media platforms, particularly Twitter, have on shaping national narratives by controlling the flow of news and information. The platform famously put its thumb on the scale in suppressing information on Hunter Biden ahead of the 2020 election, and are no doubt planning to ‘curate’ news ahead of the forthcoming midterms, as well. If Musk takes over Twitter and does what he plans — that is, allows a freer discourse on one of the most important news and discourse sites in the world — that could be a game changer, particularly for conservative candidates, conservative press, and of course, for voters. An election unfettered by social media censorship? Imagine that!”

Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute

Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute
(Rachel Bovard)

Tim Hogan, Democratic strategist and former communications director for Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign:

“Candidate quality problems (alternate description: sanity) will plague Republicans with late-game surprises in close races up and down the ballot. We’re barely a week into October and Herschel Walker’s campaign has redefined five-alarm fire, Dr. Oz is denying he experimented on puppies, and the Minnesota gubernatorial challenger Scott Jensen is talking about schoolkids peeing in litter boxes.”

“There may never be a more accident and gaffe-prone crop of candidates on the Republican side. These folks, and the litany of election-deniers running for offices like Secretary of State, are going to repel independent voters and possibly define a new limit to negative partisanship being able to drive voters to support candidates of their own party.”

Rory McShane, founder of McShane LLC, political and media consultant:

“The October surprise will be Joe Biden releasing more oil from the strategic reserve and leaning on the fed to cut interest rates to push some cheap cash into the economy to spike the stock market. Joe Biden is going to use every unfair advantage possible to try to pull the wool over the American people’s eyes so they don’t realize how bad things really are. If the American people understood how bad the economy really was it would be a red tsunami.”

Rory McShane, founder of McShane LLC, political and media consultant

Rory McShane, founder of McShane LLC, political and media consultant
(Rory McShane)

Laura Fink, founder and CEO of Rebelle Communications, Democratic political and media consultant:

“2022 isn’t the year of your dad’s October surprise. Late breaking hit pieces and damning media stories rarely come so late in the election cycle. With mail-in voting now established and popular, campaigns need to define their opposition earlier. This year, the most potent October surprise came early. In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — taking away a fundamental freedom from more than half the country. This government overreach into personal healthcare decisions ignited voters – doubling Kansas’ primary turnout from 2018. Kansans voted overwhelmingly to protect abortion rights and voters in swing districts and states across the country are poised to do the same this October when ballots drop and early voting begins.”

“Draconian decisions like overturning Roe have the rare effect of both energizing Democrats AND persuading Independent and Republican swing voters — especially women and dads — to cast a vote for candidates who would fight protect their most fundamental freedoms. These voters will bring an October surprise to extremist Republicans from Wisconsin to Arizona to Kansas and Georgia this fall.”

Laura Fink, founder and CEO of Rebelle Communications

Laura Fink, founder and CEO of Rebelle Communications
(Rebelle Communications)

Isaac Wright, political and public affairs consultant, partner at Forward Solution Strategy Group:

“A year ago, political pundits, analysts, and most political operatives were openly discussing the shellacking Democrats were expected to take in November of 2022 as they envisioned how the Biden Administration would implement substantive policy when Republicans took control of both the House and Senate after the Midterms Elections.  As the political winds have shifted over the summer, the coming October surprise will be mounting Democratic momentum to keep the Senate and narrowly hold the House – or at a minimum keep the margin in the U.S. House razor close.”

“As part of the October surprise, the Republican election autopsy will begin behind closed doors even before Election Day ballots are cast while GOP powerbrokers reckon with what the extremist takeover of their Party has cost them.  Biden and the Democrats’ policy wins with the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPs Act, and the PACT Act — jump starting the economy while tackling inflation, bringing American manufacturing home from overseas while addressing supply chain issues, and providing improved health care access for our veterans, respectively.”

“Republican leaders will wrestle with the dire impact of the extremist takeover of their Party that played as much of a role in their electoral underperformance as did the Democrats own success. … This year’s October surprise will be the price patriotic Republicans will face for allowing the extremist takeover of their party.”

Isaac Wright, political and public affairs consultant, partner at Forward Solution Strategy Group

Isaac Wright, political and public affairs consultant, partner at Forward Solution Strategy Group
(Isaac Wright)


The comments provided to Fox News Digital in this article are part of a weekend series in which strategists from across the political spectrum are asked the same questions related to political hot topics and are provided with an opportunity to offer their perspective.