Debate Preview: Strategies And Odds For Each Candidate

By Noah Lieberman

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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.

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