What may or may not have occurred in October of 1980 was not the first time an October Surprise was purposefully orchestrated, but is certainly one of the most famous. As wikipedia summarizes:
1980 Carter vs. ReaganDuring the Iran hostage crisis, the Republican challenger Ronald Reagan feared a last-minute deal to release the hostages, which might earn incumbent Jimmy Carter enough votes to win re-election in the 1980 presidential election. As it happened, in the days prior to the election, press coverage was consumed with the Iranian government's decision—and Carter's simultaneous announcement—that the hostages would not be released until after the election.
It was first written about in a Jack Anderson article in the Washington Post in the fall of 1980, in which he alleged that the Carter administration was preparing a major military operation in Iran for rescuing U.S. hostages in order to help him get reelected. Subsequent allegations surfaced against Reagan alleging that his team had impeded the hostage release to negate the potential boost to the Carter campaign.
After the release of the hostages on the same day, literally 5 minutes following Reagan's inauguration on January 20, 1981, some charged that the Reagan campaign made a secret deal with the Iranian government whereby the Iranians would hold the hostages until Reagan was inaugurated, ensuring that Carter would lose the election.
Gary Sick, member of the National Security council under Presidents Ford and Carter (before being relieved of his duties mere weeks into Reagan's term)  made the accusation in a New York Times editorial  in the run-up to the 1992 election. The initial bipartisan response from Congress was skeptical: House Democrats refused to authorize an inquiry, and Senate Republicans denied a $600,000 appropriation for a probe.
Eight former hostages also sent an open letter demanding an inquiry in 1991  In subsequent Congressional testimony, Sick said that the popular media had distorted and misrepresented the accusers, reducing them to "gross generalizations" and "generic conspiracy theorists." Sick penned a book on the subject and sold the movie rights to it for a reported $300,000.  His sources and thesis were contested by a number of commentators on both sides of the aisle.  
Bani-Sadr, the former President of Iran, has also stated "that the Reagan campaign struck a deal with Teheran to delay the release of the hostages in 1980," asserting that "by the month before the American Presidential election in November 1980, many in Iran's ruling circles were openly discussing the fact that a deal had been made between the Reagan campaign team and some Iranian religious leaders in which the hostages' release would be delayed until after the election so as to prevent President Carter's re-election" He repeated the charge in "My Turn to Speak: Iran, the Revolution & Secret Deals with the U.S."
Two separate congressional investigations looked into the charges, both concluding that there was no plan to seek to delay the hostages' release. At least three books have argued the case.
Which message will resonate with voters?
- Jimmy Carter
- Ronald Reagan
Key October Surprise Evidence Hidden
A Russian government report, which corroborated allegations that Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign interfered with President Jimmy Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980, was apparently kept from the Democratic chairman of a congressional task force that investigated the charges a dozen years later.
Lee Hamilton, then a congressman from Indiana in charge of the task force, told me in a recent interview, “I don’t recall seeing it,” although he was the one who had requested Moscow’s cooperation in the first place and the extraordinary Russian report was addressed to him.
The Russian report, which was dropped off at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Jan. 11, 1993, contradicted the task force’s findings – which were released two days later – of “no credible evidence” showing that Republicans contacted Iranian intermediaries behind President Carter’s back regarding 52 American hostages held by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary government, the so-called October Surprise case.
I was surprised by Hamilton’s unfamiliarity with the Russian report, so I e-mailed him a PDF copy. I then contacted the task force’s former chief counsel, attorney Lawrence Barcella, who acknowledged in an e-mail that he doesn’t “recall whether I showed [Hamilton] the Russian report or not.”
In other words, the Russian report – possibly representing Moscow’s first post-Cold War collaboration with the United States on an intelligence mystery – was not only kept from the American public but apparently from the chairman of the task force responsible for the investigation.
If the name Lee Hamilton sounds familiar, you might remember he was the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
As I said before, I'll analyze this story in greater detail in December. Until then, happy anniversary!