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I've come across the "come + X" construct in a passage of a New York Times article. Here it is (emphasis added):

Politicians like to keep the fiscal levers in their hands come election time

What kind of clause does it introduce? Plus, how common is it? Is it typically American? Formal or informal? Are there any other instances where it is used, besides "come election time," which seems to me a set phrase? Lastly, which mood is that "come"?

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It’s an example of the formulaic subjunctive, found also in fixed expressions such as ‘Suffice it to say’ and ‘Be it noted’. Its use is not confined to the United States. It’s found in British speech as, for example, ‘They’ll have been away two weeks come Sunday.’

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  • Can ‘They’ll have been away two weeks come Sunday’ be rephrased as ‘Sunday will mark the second week since they have left’? (I realize that's an awkward rephrasing, but I just wanted to make sure I grasped the meaning.) Commented May 9, 2012 at 11:11
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    @Giorgiomastrò: No, it means 'when election time comes'. Commented May 9, 2012 at 11:29
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    When for a normally recurring event, if for a potential one. There are also idioms like "came the dawn", a comment on someone's discovering something they should already have figured out, and "come the Revolution", meaning if/when the Revolution ever happens, etc. Essentially come has become a temporal preposition with this specialized sense. Commented May 9, 2012 at 16:15
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    Can "come to think of it" (e.g. "Come to think of it, I've run out of money too") be classed as another example of formulaic subjunctive? Commented May 14, 2012 at 13:24
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    @Giorgiomastrò: Not sure. It may be an ellipsed form of 'If I come to think of it'. Commented May 14, 2012 at 14:08
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I don't see its usage as especially formal but it isn't in common informal usage - I hear phrases such as "come daybreak" or "come end of play" occasionally in the UK.

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