Post-Debate Analysis: Rubio Wins Big, But Fiorina Puts Up A Fight

Fiorina Rubio

By Noah Lieberman

Ballotcraft is a fantasy politics game (think fantasy football, but for politics). Play against your friends and win by best predicting what’s going to happen in upcoming elections. Sign up and play here: www.ballotcraft.com.

While Wednesday’s debate was shorter than the previous two, it was not without its share of excitement. Between the candidates’ vicious tone, the lack of control by CNBC’s inexperienced moderators, and the sometimes shocking answers, there was a lot to sway movement on the markets all night long. And yet, when push came to shove, only two candidates emerged with any real shot of winning the debate, and they just happened to be the two candidates who won the last two debates (and who we had forecasted to do well that night): Florida Senator Marco Rubio and CEO Carly Fiorina. Rubio entered the night as the clear favorite, up 10 points over the nearest competitor, while Fiorina was tied with two other candidates for second. During the run-up to the debate, which delayed quite a bit inexplicably, Fiorina began to close in on Rubio’s price, and by the time the first question was asked was down just 5 points.

Fiorina Rubio Oct Chart

From there she quickly gained on the senator, using her simple “get things done” message to win over the conservative parts of the internet and our traders. By 8:30, they were neck and neck and would stay that way for much of the night. They quickly surpassed the combined odds of the rest of the field, and by 9:45 the two combined for an over 65% chance of winning the debate. They had both proven to the audience that they were still the best debaters on stage and that one of the two of them would turn in the best performance.

However, not long after that, Rubio began to leave Fiorina in the dust. Ten minutes later, he was past 40%, up 10 over the former business leader. Fifteen minutes later his lead had increased by five points, and ten minutes after that it had increased to 20 points, where it would stay until the final vote, which he won. Now, why this sudden swing to Senator Rubio? His performance did not improve that dramatically, nor did Fiorina’s slip. Instead, I think that the traders began to put this debate in the context of the question we ask our focus groups after each debate: Which candidate best improved their chances of winning the nomination? Fiorina may have won some people over, but she still had to compete with Trump and Carson for the outsider vote, which remains a difficult task. But after outdoing the likes of Jeb Bush and Jon Kasich so handily, Rubio is clearly the frontrunner for the moderate, insider vote. Though he and Fiorina gave comparable performances, his impressive performance will be much more damaging to his chief competitors, and that’s why our traders, and our voters, declared him the night’s biggest winner.

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Insights from our Focus Group

Our focus group declared Marco Rubio the winner of the October 28 Republican Debate. We asked members of our focus group for insights into their decision making process. Here’s a selection of their responses:

Rubio and Cruz had the best responses to the BS questions from the moderators. They had good policy responses. They fought back with class and facts. I think Marco came out slightly better than Cruz.

Rubio came out swinging and skillfully answered many tough questions.

Fiorina’s direct style spoke to me, but she wasn’t able to pull ahead of Rubio.

Rubio was the same as usual, coming across as intelligent and empathetic.

Ted Cruz highlighted the distaste of the lack of substance in questions being asked. He addressed it head on and got resounding applause. He was also the most confident throughout the night.

Christie stood out this time with his incredulity and seeming alignment with the audience’s mood, particularly regarding frustration with moderators.

Thanks again to our focus group for their help!

Marco Rubio Wins Republican Debate

Marco Rubio is the winner of the October 28 Republican Debate, as he was deemed by our focus group as the candidate to have “best improved his or her chance of winning the Republican nomination”.

This is the breakdown of our focus group’s voting:

October 28 Republican Debate Winner

We will be regularly updating this blog with commentary from our focus group and analysis of trading behavior during the game, so check back again soon.

Special thanks to our focus group!

Debate Preview: Strategies And Odds For Each Candidate

By Noah Lieberman

Ballotcraft is a fantasy politics game (think fantasy football, but for politics). Play against your friends and win by best predicting what’s going to happen in upcoming elections. Sign up and play here: www.ballotcraft.com.

With the third Republican Presidential Debate happening in just under five hours, it’s time to start getting serious about your strategy for winning your league. Here are all of the candidates that will be appearing in CNBC’s Colorado debate tonight and what you need to know before you start to buy.

Tier 1: The Two Winners

We start our list off with the two candidates who have the best chance of winning it all, mostly because they’ve already proved they can. Past victory doesn’t always guarantee future success, but both Senator Rubio and Ms. Fiorina have been far superior to their competition in both of the last two debates, meaning they both have a great chance of being the big winner tonight.

Marco Rubio

Price: 26.7

Final Price In Last Debate: 31.1

Vote Received In Last Debate: 13%

Marco Rubio, currently leading the next closest competitor by about 10 points, has the biggest advantage over the rest of the field that we have ever seen before a Republican debate. I talked earlier this week about why that may or may not be justified, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but, essentially, giving this unprecedented position to the Florida Senator is really only setting his investors up for disappointment. No frontrunner has been able to maintain a lead this large for very long and in such a short debate Rubio is only one misstep of his own or one great line from a rival away from seeing it vanish.

That is not to say that Rubio can’t win. I think 25% is about right for his chances and that’s probably where it will end up at the end of the night. But that’s the point: it won’t make a difference if you invest now or at 9:55 tonight as he’s giving his closing remark, since the price will be about the same. But if you use the first half of the debate to make a profit off of the lower-priced candidates (Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, or a “No” share in Ben Carson are my top three picks), then you’ll have more to spend in the end, and might be able to pass the people who were stuck on Rubio all night. If he gets past 33% or if it begins to shape up like a two-person contest, then Rubio will be worth the investment, but other than that I’d advise slowing down and waiting to see who joins him up there.

Carly Fiorina

Price: 16.8

Final Price In Last Debate: 40.3

Vote Received In Last Debate:  67%

The winner of the last debate (she probably would have won the first one too if we let our focus group vote for her), former HP CEO Carly Fiorina is still underpriced in my mind, tied with Carson and Trump at about 16-17 percent. She’s a far greater debater than these two, though, and I think that skill will lead to her stealing most of their value as the debate gets going in the first 40 minutes or so. Not only that, but CNBC is hosting this debate and has guaranteed a focus on business and the economy, two areas in which Fiorina’s rhetoric is polished and persuasive.

Now there is a chance that this debate gives us our first serious questioning of Fiorina’s tenure as head of HP, which ended rather infamously. But in such a short debate – I think after you take out time for commercials, the moderators, and opening and closing remarks, each candidate will only be left with about 5 to 6 minutes of actual speaking time – she won’t need more than a good prepared statement, which she no doubt has. Still, if it’s the first thing the moderators mention, I’d wait until that line of questioning was done and assess the damage before getting back on the Fiorina bandwagon. Still, barring some unexpected collapse, she’ll end up in the top three tonight with at least a 25% chance on the market.

Tier 2: Popular Candidates, Poor Debaters

Our next tier of candidates all have great poll numbers, but have yet to garner any support among our traders or focus groups during the debates. In fact, each of these three candidates (Senator Cruz, Dr. Carson, and Mr. Trump) has yet to finish a debate above four percent, despite the fact that they are the three leading candidates in Iowa and three of the top five nationally. Winning over traders after two lackluster performances will be hard enough, but their lead in the polls will make it even harder to win the distinction of having best improved their chances.

Donald Trump

Price: 16.8

Final Price In Last Debate: 1.4

Vote Received In Last Debate: 0%

Is there anything I can say about Donald Trump that you haven’t heard before? Four months into the Donald’s candidacy and he’s still dominating headlines and the polls (though Carson is cutting into both of those, more on that below). So why wouldn’t we expect him to dominate the debate? Well, frankly, because he has proven completely incapable of doing it in the past. Sure, he comes away with lots of press, but no more than he came in with, and when your poll numbers are so high, there’s not really a way for them to go any higher. If Donald Trump couldn’t walk away victorious from either of the last two debates, why would he do so tonight?

He might be helped by the host and the format (even though he’s complained about it, a short, business-centric debate seems tailor-made for Trump), but I still think his prospects are dim. But this shouldn’t be a concern in the long run for the Trump 2016 faithful or those who plan on betting on him in the actual elections. Trump’s campaign was never about winning over as many Republicans as possible (just look at his negative favorability rating); Trump’s plan all along was to speak to the Tea Party crowd without a voice in Washington, and his debates, though awful by standard metrics, have succeeded in that regard. So I’d say don’t invest in Trump tonight, even shorting him may take too long to be a worthwhile strategy, but don’t take tonight as a reason to sleep on him in the future.

Ben Carson

Price: 15.7

Final Price In Last Debate: 3.4

Vote Received In Last Debate: 4%

Dr. Carson’s continued place atop these markets astounds me. I wrote earlier about why his success in the polls doesn’t equal success at the debates, but his price kept going up so I guess I’ll have to say it again. Carson, like Trump, speaks to a part of the GOP that doesn’t usually get addressed directly. His religious, radical, and far-right rhetoric win those people over, but aren’t going to fly with a larger audience. Add to that his slow, sleepy style of speech and lack of economic experience and you have a guaranteed disappointing performance for the people who drove his price up to the high teens.

I am sure Carson will not be poorly affected in the polls from this debate, and he may even go up afterwards (though I think that’s more a continuation of the current trend than a result of the debate). But he is not going to win over our focus group and the market will realize that early in this debate. Buy “No” shares in him as soon as you can, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Ted Cruz

Price: 4.5

Final Price In Last Debate: 1.2

Vote Received In Last Debate: 0%

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the third place candidate in most Iowa polls and fifth nationally, has had almost no impact on the race considering his standing in the polls. He’s barely mentioned when discussing top contenders, gets shafted on the Sunday talk shows, and gets treated like a lower-tier candidate at the debates. Will that change tonight? Probably not. Will Senator Cruz try to make that change tonight? Almost certainly.

And therein lies the biggest question with Cruz’s stock tonight: Does this demand for a chance to be seen and heard by the American people come off desperate and petty (ala Jim Webb in the Democratic debate) or honest and warranted. I think Cruz’s reputation as an overly theatrical senator will precede him and keep his attempts at relevancy from seeming sincere, but if he is able to strike that chord, there’s no reason not to consider him a better option than Carson and Trump for most improving his standing with the far-right crowd.

Tier 3: Insider Also-Rans

On paper, this pair of governors has everything you’d need to be considered a frontrunner in the Republican field. But these establishment candidates have had trouble distinguishing themselves in a crowded, outsider-friendly field, despite some pretty good, though not amazing, debate performances. For these candidates, good isn’t going to be good enough for much longer, and they need to find the spark that frees them from this crowded field.

Jeb Bush

Price: 4.7

Final Price In Last Debate: 9.2

Vote Received In Last Debate: 4%

Let’s start with the statement that may get a lot of you to skip past this section: I think Jeb Bush is one of the best debaters in this year’s race. Bush may not be getting a lot of love for his mediocre showing at last month’s debate, but the market and I agree he was at least in the top half of the field and a strong finish actually made him the third highest-priced candidate at the end of the night. But despite his oratorical skill, he failed to make a dent in Fiorina’s final vote total and came up short for the second debate in a row. This last debate seemed to be more damaging to his poll numbers, and now he’s very much at a tipping point for his campaign.

This is I why I think Bush, who has finally realized that Trump and Carson are not passing fads, will come out swinging tonight with the bold strokes needed to save his campaign. The theme of CNBC’s debate is “Your Money. Your Vote” which would give Bush all the ammunition he needs to finally go on the attack against Trump, who has mixed economic experience, and Carson, who has none. Watch for an energetic, aggressive Bush, and be sure to buy the second he emerges.

John Kasich

Price:3.7

Final Price In Last Debate: 5.9

Vote Received In Last Debate: 4%

Kasich was the surprise star of the first primetime debate, winning over audiences with his moderate viewpoints and calm demeanor. Since then little has gone right for the Ohio governor, who has had little upward momentum in the polls and has struggled to raise the donations he needs to compete in the crucial state of New Hampshire. This debate may be his last shot at going from an afterthought in the field, a possible swing-state vice presidential pick, to a real contender to take some early states off the board.

Like with Jon Huntsman in 2012, Kasich’s strategy revolves around winning the fiscally conservative but socially moderate New England states. A CNBC debate focused largely on the economy is the perfect place for Kasich to do that, but unfortunately the 2 hour runtime will not give him the opportunities he needs to make that case (he was already among the least questioned candidates in last month’s debate). Unless he is assertive enough to insert himself into the conversation more frequently, there just won’t be enough chances for his stock to rise to make investing in him a smart move.

Tier 4: Waiting For Their Big Break

Finally, we reach the tier of candidates who aren’t making waves on the debate stage or the campaign trail. That’s not to say that it’s all over for these candidates – each has had their moments over the course of the last two debates – but something big is going to have to happen to bust them out of the doldrums tonight.

Chris Christie

Price: 4.5

Final Price In Last Debate: 2.1

Vote Received In Last Debate: 4%

Christie has actually given his fair share of memorable moments in the last two debates, which would usually be enough to lift him up to the next tier, but, alas, so it goes in this overcrowded field. Christie has shown he can dazzle with a prepared speech (his opening “Put the camera on the audience” moment from CNN’s debate was among the best I’ve ever seen) and in a mano a mano confrontation, such as his battle with Rand Paul in the first debate. For Christie, the talent is there, he just needs to find a better way to make it stand out.

If you’re considering Christie as your dark horse pick to win big tonight, you’ll want to listen to the audience. The UC-Boulder Coors Event Center will only have 1,000 audience members instead of its full 11,000 person occupancy, and the smaller crowd could hurt Christie on the market. The polls don’t indicate that his message is particularly resonant with Republican voters, so if traders don’t get that message from the crowd they’ll be unlikely to back him tonight. Either way I think he’ll get above the 4 points he’s hovering around now, so put a few credits in now if you want a low-risk investment for the first part of the debate.

Rand Paul

Price: 4.0

Final Price In Last Debate: 2.0

Vote Received In Last Debate: 4%

Rand Paul did fantastically on our market in the first debate, rising from 4 percent at the start of the night to having the highest price at the end. He came in fourth in the final vote, and netted a hefty profit for people who sold off before the votes were tallied. But the Kentucky neo-libertarian was essentially a non-entity last month whose only memorable moment was being told off by Donald Trump at the very start of the debate.  He will surely bring the most unusual answers to this economic debate, but with only two hours (minus commercials and moderator speaking time) to divide between 10 candidates, the low-polling Paul won’t get a lot of time to share them. He’ll probably have his moments, and may see a rise of a point or two, but there’s too much stacked against him to win the debate, so I say stay away from Paul if you’re looking to make big moves.

Mike Huckabee

Price: 3.9

Final Price In Last Debate: 1.1

Vote Received In Last Debate: 0%

Mike Huckabee may be the only person on the stage who isn’t running for president. His tone has been non-confrontational, he has complimented all of his competitors (even Trump), and he seems more concerned with cracking jokes than proposing policy. I think he’s trying to get someone to like him enough to make him veep (and with the lack of southern Christians on the stage he may have a shot), which is good and all for him, but not for an investor. Stay away from his stock, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.

Debate Preview: Rubio Takes Frontrunner Spot, But Fiorina Is Set To Play Spoiler

Fiorina Rubio

By Noah Lieberman

Ballotcraft is a fantasy politics game (think fantasy football, but for politics). Play against your friends and win by best predicting what’s going to happen in upcoming elections. Sign up and play here: www.ballotcraft.com.

With just two days left before the third Republican Presidential Debate, trading is starting to heat up on Ballotcraft. And while you’re going to have to be active on Wednesday night to win your league, implementing a strategy now might be enough to get a leg up on the other traders. So with that in mind, here are the big trends we’re seeing on the market and how you can use them to get ahead.

Rubio Finally Takes Frontrunner Spot, But Will How Far Can He Rise?

The winner of our first debate game has finally taken his place as the leader of the field, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio boasting a double-digit lead over the next candidate. For Rubio supporters, this may have seemed inevitable; while other insider candidates, from Bush to Walker, dropped from relevance due to the mounting strength of the anti-establishment wing of the party, Rubio has remained solidly in contention and is now poised to consolidate support among the moderate crowd and give Trump and Carson a run for their money. If Rubio succeeds in distinguishing himself from the other establishment candidates and outperforms the outsiders, this debate could mark the beginning of his long-awaited reclamation of the title of GOP frontrunner.

But even though Rubio’s spot at the top is not without warrant, the size of his lead so far in advance should be cause for concern. No Republican candidate has come into a debate with this high a price or this large a lead over their competitors. And though Rubio did eventually pass the 30 point mark on his way to a second-point finish last month, this is still largely uncharted territory for the senator. When Rubio was among the frontrunners during the first debate, he had trouble making any waves, and instead dropped a few points before re-rising and dropping again. Now that he has sole possession of the lead, chances are he’s going to have even more trouble making gains in the crowded field and won’t yield you much profit over the course of the debate. Rubio Chart 10-26

Looking at the performance of previous frontrunners also gives credence to this idea that Rubio will have trouble maintaining his lead. Walker fared fairly well in the first debate before a late-night collapse led to him losing the lead, but Kasich basically fell out of the lead as soon as the debate started before ending with a single-digit price. But even Walker barely passed Rubio’s current price, giving me little hope that holding on to Rubio’s stock will be a good way of guaranteeing yourself first place in your league.

Frontrunner Chart

I would recommend selling most of the shares you own of Rubio, and investing them in some lower-priced candidates (Fiorina, Bush, and Christie would all be interesting pickups at their current prices) to get more money to invest later on. I’d say if Rubio is at 35 points or higher by the first commercial break, then by all means go all in. But if he isn’t leaving the rest of the field of behind, then there won’t be any harm in waiting until the end of the night to decide if you really think he’s going to be the winner.

Fiorina A Great, Underpriced Buy At 17%

While Senator Rubio, winner of our first debate focus group, currently leads the pack with a commanding 30 point price, last month’s winner, Carly Fiorina, is trailing behind at just 17 percent. Fiorina dominated the vote and the market during the last debate, winning both handily without ever really feeling any competition for the top spot. So why can’t she even take a solid second place leading up to Wednesday’s debate? The answer is probably that her poll numbers haven’t increased too much since the last debate, a sign that her debate performances don’t really improve her chances, which is, after all, the question we ask of our focus group to declare a winner. But I would argue that this shouldn’t keep you from buying Fiorina as soon as possible.

Carly has barely campaigned at all so far this year, meaning the only thing keeping her afloat in the polls is her debate performances, which have been irrefutably strong. Even if a great debate doesn’t lift her polls it will keep her from sinking, which is a pretty good net gain in the eyes of our focus group. Secondly, we hold our vote right after the debate, meaning that our focus group is heavily influenced by the performances and may think less about their context in the primary race. This favors Fiorina, who has a knack for big moments and strong finishes which linger with our voters.

And all of this ignores how much Fiorina will benefit from the structure and subjects of the CNBC debate. The shorter debate means there’s going to be more prepared statements and less follow-up questions, which plays right to her strengths. There will also no doubt be a large focus on business and Wall Street, areas in which Carly is experienced and easily capable of claiming as strong spots for her presidency. And finally, CNBC’s hosts lack the political interview experience of the more established networks, which will likely benefit Fiorina, who shared a fair amount of questionable claims in the last debate. All in all, I think Fiorina should still be a favorite to win Wednesday night, and would recommend you buy her before the rest of the traders catch on.

Market Overvalues Trump And Carson Again

Finally, we reach the two candidates who have completely failed in their performance over the last two debates. Donald Trump and Ben Carson have ended both debates with lower prices than they started with and yet both are priced in the double-digits, with Trump actually taking the second-place spot, far above what I think their stock should be worth. Let’s start with Trump: He’s priced so much higher than he has ever has been before that I think it’s inevitable that his price plummets early in this debate. Sure, he’s done more to establish himself as a real candidate in past weeks and sure, this debate format will favor him more than the three-hour marathons of the past, but he still has failed to show he can engage in a successful political discussion with his peers. While his grandiose style may please his supporters at his rallies, it has had a negative effect on our focus groups as it shows how poorly he would lead his party and work within the Washington system. Unless he comes out on the stage as a changed man, you should completely avoid his stock and could probably make a good profit shorting it.

Trump Past Prices

As for Carson, his prospects seem even bleaker, since he couldn’t even boast Trump’s short term gains during the September debate. While the lower price does a good job of reflecting voter’s lowered expectation, Carson’s recent string of gaffes and outrageous statements does little to convince me he won’t end up right back below four percent, where he’s ended up the last two debates. Carson will be receiving more questions this debate, since he is now definitely the second-place candidate in the polls, but that means nothing if he can’t capitalize on the opportunities. See how he does with his first question before making a final verdict on the neurosurgeon, but if you’re getting a sense of déjà vu, chance are our voters are too.

Carson Prices

Post-Debate Analysis: Market Can’t Make Up Its Mind About Clinton

hillary_clinton_debate_ap_img

By Noah Lieberman

BallotCraft is a fantasy politics game (think fantasy football, but for politics). Play against your friends and win by best predicting what’s going to happen in upcoming elections. Sign up and play here: www.ballotcraft.com.

This is part three of our three-part series analyzing Ballotcraft’s market data during the first Democratic Presidential Debate, covering the trends that dominated the night and how a savvy investor could use them in the future.

Though countless media outlets were quick to name the former Secretary of State the winner of the first Democratic debate, our traders were less convinced. Clinton had been struggling for days leading up to the debate, having fallen from equal standing with Sanders a week ago to less than half of his price on the morning of the debate. And despite a strong start in the debate, bolstered by a strong foreign policy segment and Sanders’ weak response on gun control. But once we moved on to the topics of college affordability, social security, and Wall Street reform, Clinton’s price began to plummet. This also corresponded with the rise of Martin O’Malley, indicating that our traders thought he was a better mainstream Democrat than her.

After the sudden drop, Clinton spent the remaining hour of the debate languishing in the low twenties, a distant third to the two main contenders. And yet, despite her low price, she tied with Martin O’Malley in our focus group’s final vote. This says two things to me: First, our focus groups view the race the same way that the major media outlets and most Americans do. That is to say that it will be a matter of Hillary vs Bernie until proven otherwise. If Martin O’Malley shoots up in the polls because of the debate, then maybe this will be challenged, but considering how reticent the media was to abandon the Hillary storylines I highly doubt it.

On a performance level, I actually think Hillary did much better than her final price indicated. She played the crowd really well, addressed all of the concerns dogging her campaign, and came out as the liberal candidate the new base of the party needed to see. No one is going to challenge Sanders so long as he’s spreading the most exciting message of the Democrats. But in case his shtick wears off, I think Hillary will continue to be an overlooked, underpriced purchase to swoop in and win the debate.

Post-Debate Analysis: O’Malley’s Speeches Dazzle Market, But Not Voters

Martin O'Malley

By Noah Lieberman

Ballotcraft is a fantasy politics game (think fantasy football, but for politics). Play against your friends and win by best predicting what’s going to happen in upcoming elections. Sign up and play here: www.ballotcraft.com.

This is part two of our three-part series analyzing Ballotcraft’s market data during the first Democratic Presidential Debate, covering the trends that dominated the night and how a savvy investor could use them in the future.

Interesting fact from Tuesday’s debate: Even though Bernie Sanders won the debate, if you had to put all of your credits in one candidate at the start of the night he would have only been the second best option. Since you’re a smart person and probably saw the title of this article, it shouldn’t be hard for you to guess that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was the only candidate to beat Bernie in this regard. An 8:00 purchase of Sanders’ stock at 56.3 would end up being worth 100 credits, netting you a 78 percent profit. Whereas a similarly timed purchase of O’Malley’s shares, priced at 11.4, sold as Anderson Cooper was signing off, would end up being worth 37.5 credits, for a profit of 229 percent, far more than any Sanders investor could have possibly earned.

So why did the former mayor of Baltimore outperform his expectations by such a wide margin? While you may be trying to recall a game-changing moment, like his staunch opposition to the NRA or Sorkin-esque closing statements arguing the merits of liberalism, the answer is actually much simpler than that: Martin O’Malley is just a good debater. His viewpoints, while pretty standard for your run-of-the-mill Democrat, were articulated rather well and even his weakest answers, on the unrest stemming from police relations in his hometown, were given with enough conviction and good intentions to keep his price from dipping more than three points. And thankfully for O’Malley, that question was both early on in the debate, buried in the seemingly never-ending section before the first commercial break, and short, driving the discussion for less than three minutes.

With that out of the way, O’Malley was able to put on a remarkably strong performance for the last 90 minutes of the two and a half hour debate, with his price on a near constant rise the entire time. He quickly replaced Hillary as the consensus number two candidate on the site and was the only candidate to ever the share the lead with Sanders, which he did for 90 seconds towards the very end of the debate. He played up his gubernatorial experience when talking about gun control, felt comfortable criticizing or complimenting his fellow candidates, and had some terrific lines along the way. But more than anything he was consistent, and it was this quality that led his slow but sustained rise to the top.

There are a couple things keeping this from being a full-blown success for O’Malley, though. First, he didn’t fair very well in the final focus group vote, tying with Clinton well behind Sanders. Now that he has a good performance and some name recognition behind him, it will be even less likely that he wins our vote, which is based on which candidate “most improved their chances”. Secondly, we can look back at the Republican debates to find a candidate who had a similar first performance, and unfortunately things did not turn out well for that candidate. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul had a similarly steady rise in the first Republican debate, which very closely mirrors O’Malley’s.

O'Malley Paul Chart

Both candidates experienced similar delays between the start of the debate and their eventual rise, both had a solid hour of moving up the ranks (Paul’s was a bit choppier because of how many other candidates were affecting his price), and both ended a close second in the market and tied for a distant second in the vote. Unfortunately, Paul’s good performance didn’t translate well to his poll numbers, nor did it lead him to repeat success in the following debate. O’Malley has less rivals to compete against for attention, but if Paul is any indicator it won’t be easy for him to carry this momentum over. See how he fares in the month between now and Des Moines, but don’t let one debate that exceeded expectations trick you into betting the farm on O’Malley.