By Mike Lillis - 10/01/12 09:00 AM EDT
October, the month of political surprises, has arrived.
From Henry Kissinger's 1972 "peace is at hand" declaration to Mark Foley's 2006 sex scandal to the Wall Street bailout of 2008, U.S. elections have a long and colorful history of late-breaking stories with the potential to influence outcomes.
Romney, who lost ground in the polls throughout the month of September, has the most to gain from such an event. Indeed, an Associated Press poll released this weekend found that Obama would be the victor if the election were held today – a clear enough indication that something's got to give this month if Romney hopes to win the White House.
Some Republicans are hoping that the coming debates will provide something like an October-surprise moment by allowing Romney to communicate directly to millions of voters about his vision for the country – a message even his campaign concedes has been muddied by a series of gaffes and distractions.
"He's gonna come in Wednesday night, he's gonna lay out his vision for America and he's gonna contrast what his view is to what the president's record is," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "And this whole race is gonna be turned upside down come Thursday morning."
Still other Republicans, Romney included, have hoped Obama's actions surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi – an assault that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans – might haunt the president and erode some of his support in the lead up to November.
Indeed, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Sunday that Republicans should be holding hearings on the tragedy "right now" to highlight the issue and learn why the administration didn't do more to prevent it.
"How could an ambassador be in Benghazi – the hotbed of anti-American sentiment in Libya – how could he be there on 9/11 with no security?" Gingrich asked Bob Schieffer on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "This entire incident makes no sense. And, yes, I think that Romney should be demanding that the president tell the American people the truth."
But with both chambers of Congress on recess until after the election, there's little chance of the Republicans holding hearings to embarrass Obama – on Benghazi or any other issue. And so far, the tragedy has done nothing to dent the president's approval rating. In fact, Obama has widened his lead over Romney since the attack, notably in several key battleground states.
Complicating the GOP's efforts to make political hay of the Libya episode, Romney hammered Obama immediately after the attack in a statement that was criticized as premature by even members of his own party.
"Gov. Romney leaped out on this Libya issue on the first day and was terribly mistaken about what he said," David Axelrod, a senior Obama campaign advisor, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "That is not what you want in a president."
The leaking of Romney's "47 percent" comments just a week after the Benghazi attack has also been a factor, putting the Romney camp on the defensive just as it might have continued to attack Obama's foreign policy record.
Obama has his share of albatrosses entering the final stretch of the campaign. Unemployment, for instance, remains above 8 percent, and the nation's GDP grew by a spiritless 1.3 percent in the second quarter of the year. Still, national polls indicate that Romney hasn't been able to use the frail economy to the advantage that many observers expected.