Secretive talks within the waning days of a marketing campaign. Furtive cellphone calls. Ardent public denials.

American historical past is stuffed with October surprises — late revelations, generally engineered by an opponent, that shock the trajectory of a presidential election and that candidates dread. In 1880, a cast letter ostensibly written by James A. Garfield claimed he needed extra immigration from China, a place so unpopular it practically price him the election. Weeks earlier than the 1940 election, Franklin D….

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