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Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Likely to Be Biggest of Late October Surprises

Hurricane Sandy is hardly the only late October surprise to disturb the careful choreography of recent presidential campaigns, though it will probably be the most disruptive.

The late October surprises of recent elections have been much more subtle â€" changes at the 11th hour that had far less impact on the nation and its voters, but which nonetheless forced campaigns off their carefully drafted blueprints just before Election Day. Here is a look at a few.

- Four years ago, President Obama left the frenzied campaign trail only 11 days before the election to travel to Hawaii to say goodbye to his ailing grandmother, who had helped raise him. He then returned to the final sprint of the campaign, which had already been upended by the September surprise of the financial crisis, and she died the day before he was elected president.

- In the waning days of the 2004 election, the race was upended by the release of a video of Osama bin Laden telling the Ameri can people, “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda; your security is in your own hands.” Some analysts believed that its release helped President George W. Bush win re-election, by putting the focus on terrorism just before people went to the polls.

- And days before the 2000 election, news leaked that Mr. Bush had been arrested in 1976 for drunken driving in Kennebunkport, Me., throwing a late curveball into the campaign.

Hurricane Sandy promised to be a much bigger late October surprise. The candidates have scrambled their schedules to avoid the storm; Maryland suspended its early voting on Monday, and other states may follow suit; the Sunday talk shows were pre-empted in large parts of the East Coast for hurricane coverage; television stations in some states are not running the ads both campaigns bought as they cover the storm nonstop; and both campaigns are having to calculate how to continue their tasks of trying to persuade vot ers without seeming callous in the face of a potential disaster. And looming behind it all is the worry that lasting damage could disrupt the election in places.

Follow Michael Cooper on Twitter at @coopnytimes.