When events overseas don't sway voters

Militant Iranian students are seen with a blindfolded American hostage in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, November 19, 1979.
AP Photo

(CBS News) Our campaigns are usually about pocketbook issues but this is not the first time an unexpected event overseas has landed smack in the middle of a hot presidential race.

In 1968, embattled Democrats claimed they had a plan to end the war in Vietnam, but after our South Vietnamese allies mysteriously pulled out of peace talks with North Vietnam just before the election, it dashed whatever hope Democrats had for victory, and Republican Richard Nixon was elected.

But most of the time, foreign efforts to influence our elections either backfire or have no impact.

In 1980, 52 American diplomats were being held hostage in Iran, but just before the election, the Iranians seemed ready to make a deal to release them - what some saw as a ploy to reelect Jimmy Carter.

Ronald Reagan's running mate George Bush said it wouldn't work: "I think the American people don't want these mullahs, the ayatollahs, to affect the election one way or the other."

He was right of course, and Reagan won.

Terrorists crashed a truck into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and killed 23 people during Reagan's reelection campaign in 1984. Americans were outraged - and reelected Reagan.

There was no question Osama Bin Laden was trying to influence American voters in 2004 when he took credit for 9/11 and condemned George W. Bush.

"Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this," Mr. Bush said.

He was right on both counts, and was reelected.

Americans may disagree on many things but here's one thing on which we don't: We don't like anyone telling us how to vote.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.