Post-Debate Analysis: Ted Cruz Emerges Victorious While Donald Trump Surprises

By Noah Lieberman

Just like last month’s debate and just as many predicted, tonight’s debate was only ever going to be won by one of two candidates, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz. Though each candidate on stage had their moments in the spotlight, the market never wavered, holding these two far above the rest of the crowd (though Christie and Trump both made runs at double-digits). More importantly, the market never wavered on its ordering of the two candidates, holding the Florida senator far above his Texan counterpart.

The two largely avoided each other for the night, with Cruz being more occupied in fending off attacks from Trump than anything else. But at just past 11 PM, already leading by double digits on the market, Rubio pulled out all the stops and began a full assault on Cruz, critiquing his record on everything from defense spending to pandering and flip-flopping for Iowans. The risk proved to be too much for Rubio, who allowed Cruz the opportunity to respond harshly without it seeming overly cruel or unprovoked. Cruz built on this with a strong closing statement after the break, pulling to within seven points by the end of the night, his smallest deficit of the day.

This error would prove to not only be Rubio’s undoing on the market, but also the final vote, where he not only did not win, but failed to even claim sole possession of second place. Senator Rubio finished tied with Governor Chris Christie and, surprisingly, Donald Trump, who all ended the night with 20% of our focus group’s vote. The biggest news out of these results is that Donald Trump’s bravado and swagger finally earned him some respect on the market, which was quite a surprise given his lackluster night on the market, complete lack of votes in past debates, and the barrage of boos he faced from the raucous South Carolina audience tonight. We’ll have more on what this means for future markets and perhaps the state of the race in our full analysis next week. Governor Jeb Bush earned a small amount of love from the focus group, a solid 10 percent.

But the big winner tonight was indeed Senator Cruz, who took the remainder of the focus group vote and first place for the second straight debate. This should lead him to continued success in Iowa, where he is possibly poised to win the first vote in this primary campaign. Our focus group praised how we handled himself against all attacks, and against Trump in particular, which should bode well for him as he faces increased challenges from his rivals as the new man to beat in the Hawkeye State.

The big takeaway tonight is that even though the market was quiet for much of the night, Ted Cruz was by far the best performer of the last twenty minutes. If you’re waiting until the last minute to place your bet on the night’s ultimate winner, it isn’t always wisest to go with the candidate on top. Go with the candidate with the most momentum, who will be leaving the freshest impression in the focus group’s mind.

Ballotcraft Portfolio

End of Debate: 12,125 (+2,125)

End of Night: 18,500 (+8,500)


Debate Preview: Rubio Favored To Repeat, But Outsiders Loom Large

GOP Presidential Debate In Simi Valley

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:

The final Republican debate of 2015 is just hours away, with nine candidates ready to go on the main stage in Las Vegas. That means it is time to start looking seriously at the candidates and storylines at play tonight in our fantasy politics market and deciding how your strategy will change depending on the way the night develops. Each candidate carries unique expectations into this debate, but in the end only one can be declared our winner. Here are the three biggest things to keep in mind while trading tonight.

Rubio’s Momentum Holds, But Will It Carry Him?

Once again we enter a Republican debate with a clear favorite in the market, and once again that candidate is Marco Rubio. He’s once again secured nearly half of the total market share and looks to be a shoo-in for the top spot at the end of the night. However, the question we have to ask again is how much higher can his price actually rise by the end of the night. Last debate, the answer to that question was a resounding yes, as his stock climbed all the way up to 72 percent before the night was over. A good night for Rubio became even better as he edged out Texas Senator Ted Cruz for the focus group’s honors of winning debater.

But two things stand in Rubio’s way as he aims to secure yet another victory on the Ballotcraft market. First, his past successes and rising poll numbers may hurt him in the focus group. Rubio has seen quite the rise since the last debate, which took place over a month ago, as he essentially gained control of the moderate, establishment wing of his party. Our focus groups judge candidates based on how much they’ve improved their odds at the end of the night, and there is certainly less ground for Rubio to gain tonight than there was a month ago. Sure, he hasn’t quite taken the lead in any states yet, but his increased media presence and sudden status as establishment frontrunner may keep him from paying off at the end of the night. Secondly, tonight’s debate is hosted by CNN, who didn’t exactly wow me (or the nation) with their moderating ability in the last debate. They allowed the pushier, attention-grabbing candidates to rise to the top, and it resulted in Rubio’s only poor showing of the campaign season, a loss to Carly Fiorina. They’ve upped the moderator quality for this debate, with Wolf Blitzer holding the reins this time around, but the sheer number of candidates should be cause for concern for the typically reserved Rubio. Still, these are merely hypotheticals that likely won’t bring any substantive harm to the young Senator’s chances. I’d say an investment in Rubio will give you some payoff by the end of the night, though it might not be the best option to win your league.

Trump, Fiorina, And Cruz Compete For Outsider Share

Aside from Rubio, only three candidates look poised to make a run at the top spot on our market based on their current standing, and all three represent the most unpredictable wing of this GOP field. Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have all had their moments to shine in the media, but each are currently eclipsed by Rubio on the market and face vastly different circumstances heading into this debate.

Trump, the perennial frontrunner who has astounded political junkies for the better part of the year with his continued success, comes in yet again with odds that seem simultaneously too low and too high. One could argue that the man who has seen poll numbers in the mid-thirties for months has no chance of improving his standing in the race. But as we draw ever closer to the first ballots cast in Iowa, maybe Trump’s continued domination of the news cycle is all he needs to put this thing away, and nothing gets Trump coverage like these debates.

Fiorina, meanwhile, has fallen from her status as Trump’s most likely challenger to yet another candidate on the verge of irrelevancy. Debates have been her lifeblood in the past, but after similar performances have led to worse and worse results, perhaps the market has wised up to her game. I think her current double-digit price has a lot to do with her performance in the last CNN debate, where she blew away the competition, and may go down if Blitzer exercises some more control over the affairs than his predecessor. I don’t expect her price to drop rapidly or significantly during the night, but I’ll be shocked if she winds up on top.

Finally, Ted Cruz has rocketed to the top of Iowa polls after a string of high-profile social conservative endorsements. A strong debate performance would easily solidify his status as contender, but that may be hard in a free-for-all debate with such a large target on his back. Cruz vastly outperformed his market price in the final vote for last week’s debate, making him perhaps a stealthy buy to win big at the end of the night. Though his staunchly conservative message didn’t translate well with traders (his stock fluttered around 12 points all night), he nearly pulled off the upset and beat Rubio in our focus group vote. So even if Cruz isn’t a good buy during the debate, don’t be afraid to pick up a few low-priced shares at the end of the night if he’s stayed on message and gotten the audience on his side.

Crowded Stage Leaves Plenty Of Room For Surprises

Once again, I end with a warning about this ridiculously crowded GOP field and all of the unpredictability that brings to tonight’s affairs. With 9 candidates all fighting for the limited airtime, expect those on the bubble like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to go all out in their attempts to get back into the spotlight. Christie in particular will be looking to swing big; a crucial endorsement in New Hampshire has revitalized his campaign, but his sagging national numbers are keeping out of the discussion for the final choice of the establishment. A big win tonight, especially one in which he eclipses the rising Rubio, could be the difference between his campaign going the distance or ending in February.

Rounding out the debate stage are Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, all of whom are on the decline and desperate to find their way back to success. However, all three have more reserved personalities that could be a hindrance when trying to find success on the primetime stage. Don’t put faith in these three to deliver you a win, even if they do dazzle with the occasional one-liner. They’ll be more of a factor just by keeping the other candidates from taking shots at Rubio and knocking him off of his impressive position.

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:

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