A March Surprise?

During the 2008 presidential election, a lot of people — myself included — wondered if some sort of October Surprise might be launched. None were. In the U.K., however, Conservative leader David Cameron — the likely winner, per the prediction markets, in the yet-to-be called election — has just unleashed a doozy: his wife Samantha is expecting the couple’s fourth child. Their first-born, Ivan, recently died at age 6 from a rare neurological condition. It is hard to imagine that a pregnant wife won’t help Cameron a bit more.

If elected, Cameron stands to be the third consecutive prime minister whose wife gives birth while campaigning or living at 10 Downing Street: Sarah Brown gave birth to James Fraser in 2006, and Cherie Blair gave birth to Leo in 2000. The last American president to have a child while in office, meanwhile, was John F. Kennedy. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born on August 7, 1963, and died on August 9, 1963.

If Cameron wins, how long will it take American political consultants to require their candidates’ spouses (or, if female, the candidates themselves) to deliver a pregnancy on the campaign trail? (And no, John Edwards does not count.)

Also worth noting in the upcoming U.K. election: the candidates for prime minister (Cameron, incumbent Gordon Brown, and Lib-Dem. candidate Nick Clegg) will this year debate each other, in three televised 90-minute sessions. This is a new wrinkle in British electoral politics. Apparently they’ve seen how well it works here.


Isn't it ironic that politicians will use their children to win the vote--or, far worse, use the death of a child to win the vote--then pompously declare that their children are "off limits" to the press?

I would hope that such things are done on purpose (e.g., getting pregnant just to win some votes, etc.), but from what I've seen of politicians, I cannot imagine that they would not use just about any means to be elected.

We should aspire to a country where men are elected based on their records, platform, and arguments, not on age, looks, the looks of their wives, the hipness of their children, the amount of hair on their head, and so forth.

Wouldn't that be something?


Melvin D Melmac, Poughkeepsie, NY

Maybe this bespeaks a new vigor in Britain, maybe the sun will set on less of the empire.



You're living in a dream world if you think that's possible.

I wished I lived there too.

Jackie O

@Aaron - It is very telling that you think that we should only judge or elect the men... based on their merits.

Melvin D Melmac, Poughkeepsie, NY

Do Dubner and/or Leavitt have any views -- I'm new to you freaks! -- on the laissez faire view that the Greenspan Fed
(Reagn thru Bush) took towards the finance industry.

I think there was sometimes as much science involved as old
Allan consulting the ghost of Ayn Rand as she galumphed
around in chunky heels, winding sheets and Marley-esque chains! Those ghostly dark eyes and scowls and that
creepy voice. One can look up the creepiness via YouTube,
where there are fawning interviews with Tom Snyder, even
with Mike Wallace


"Apparently they've seen how well it works here."

You have a very English sense of humor.


The British tabloid press refers to Mrs Cameron as SamCam.... reading about this I at first thought they'd equipped her with a permanent webcam as part of some electioneering gimmick...

Ian Kemmish

"It is hard to imagine that a pregnant wife won't help Cameron a bit more."

I fear that you underestimate the weariness and cynicism of the British electorate. The way things have been going recently, it may well have the opposite effect if people conclude that it's a deliberate ploy. Remember, the closest this man has ever got to a real job was working in PR.

After all, at the time the child was conceived in December, Mr Cameron was eagerly looking forward to the busiest twelve months of his life. Why opt for all those sleepless nights? Wouldn't any sane man have taken more precautions at such a time? Wouldn't the electorate hope for an aspiring PM who was simply "too tired", after working all day on his manifesto?

Add to that the spooky coincidence, a few days later, of the - ahem - accidental release of some modelling photos SamCam did "for a friend" over ten years ago and, well, who can blame us for being cynical?


Eileen Wyatt

Gordon Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, announced his intention not to run again on September 7, 2006, which makes that the earliest possible start date for the campaign that led to Brown's being elected Prime Minister. James Fraser Brown was born in JULY 2006, thus before the start of his father's campaign.

Leo George Blair was born while his father was Prime Minister but between campaign cycles.

That gives you ONE example of a campaigning potential Prime Minister with a pregnant wife. I'm neither an economist nor a political consultant, but I hope this is not an acceptable level of data for demonstrating that a pregnant wife improves a candidate's chances of winning.


In the US a female candidate who gave birth on the campaign trail probably would not get a boost at the polls, since we have such rigid social and gender structures. A woman with a newborn should be taking care of the infant, not politicking or focusing on her career, and it's never okay to neglect her child and let the husband be the primary caregiver!! (*gag*)

Perhaps women will just have to become grandmothers on the campaign trail? All cuteness and happy feelings, much lower social expectations for involvement in the kid's life.


"...three televised 90-minute sessions. This is a new wrinkle in British electoral politics. Apparently they've seen how well it works here."

It's new in that this is the first time the broadcasters have been able to negotiate a deal with all three main parties., they have been trying for several elections.


You're saying the debates work well? It's just an opportunity for the candidates to dodge questions by reeling off prewritten mini-speeches and slam their opponent using misleading tricks. The debates are just as bad as the rest of the political campaign process.


I can't imagine that Cameron's pending child has much to do with his political ambitions. I remember when his son died. The tributes to him from both sides of the aisle in parliament there brought me to tears. Yeah, the people there really are human beings under it all.

I'm sure they are still dealing with their loss and they made what should be a private decision at a very public time. Sometimes these things cannot wait for the political cycle.