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)


Post-Debate Analysis: Cruz’s Aggressive Strategy Pays Off


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 the most recent Republican debate concluded just moments ago, let’s take a look at how the night developed on the BallotCraft market and what that means for the future of the campaign.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio entered the debate in an enviable position: he led the rest of the field by a mile, with seemingly no possibility of being toppled. And for the first hour of the debate it looked as though that this would remain the state of the race, as the infighting between the other candidates kept him looking presidential and on top of the market. More importantly, it kept other candidates who had a chance at dethroning him from coming close, as the outsiders trying to solidify support couldn’t speak long enough to make their case. By the time we were one hour in, he had a 30 point lead over the next closest competitor, at 46 percent to Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s 16 percent.

However, as the night progressed and questioning began to focus on the leading candidates, Cruz began to break away from the rest of the pack. Though Donald Trump had put in his best performance of the campaign by staying steady at 11%, Cruz made the big statements and fought enough against the moderators and competitors to distinguish himself as the clear second-place candidate. From there on out it was a slow-burning battle between the two senators, with Cruz gradually gaining ground from the other candidates while Rubio declined even more slowly. Rubio held a 23 point lead at 10:00, a 20 point lead 15 minutes later, and a ten point lead ten minutes after that. The two candidates largely stayed out of each other’s way, and the market was slow to react for that very reason.

That is until the two came into direct conflict over immigration. Cruz and Rubio had the most memorable battle of the night over amnesty, slamming each other over their past positions. Though the audience didn’t seem to favor one over the other, the market clearly thought Cruz the victor and he shot up past his Floridian counterpart to a 44 to 23 lead, his first of the night. The lead continued to build as the traders had time to reflect on the exchange, peaking at a 28 point advantage for Senator Cruz. Though that lead slightly receded following the next commercial break, Cruz clearly came out on top. From there the market bent slightly as each candidate spoke, granting Rubio a few points when he talked about military spending, and a few for Cruz as he spoke on his fellow candidates. Closing remarks brought little change as well as all nine candidates stuck mostly to their talking points, with the prices heading into closing had Rubio at just over 25 and Cruz at 52 percent.­

When the final votes of our focus group were cast, they echoed the market’s sentiment: Cruz won over Rubio by a healthy, though still competitive, margin, 43% to 28%. Fiorina, Christie, and Paul also received votes, though not enough to think they are suddenly relevant in these debate markets again. This clearly indicates that Cruz vs. Rubio is the outsider/insider matchup to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the debates, and perhaps most of the primaries, were only won by one of these two candidates.

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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.

Post-Debate Analysis: Rubio Cruises To Unprecedented Victory

By Noah Lieberman

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Tuesday night’s Republican debate was full of exciting moments and quotes that are sure to repeated on the news for weeks to come. However, for all the excitement, bickering, and crazy moments, the debate was seemingly uninteresting on the Ballotcraft market. Marco Rubio had an astounding lead for the entire night and ended up winning the focus group vote at the end of the night. But there were some major trends behind the numbers, which will surely have an effect on future debates and markets. Here’s a quick look at the stories you should keep in mind for the next debate and beyond:

The story of the night, obviously, was Rubio’s complete domination of the entire field from start to finish. He built upon his great showing from two weeks ago (when he also won) and claimed his third debate crown of the campaign. Our focus group cited his poise and debating skill (specifically in his bout with Rand Paul) and awarded him a victory with 36% of the vote. This pales in comparison to his dominance in the market, where his stock reached record-setting highs of over 70 points. No one has ever done this well in a debate before on the Republican side, and with such a clear cut victory (especially over fellow moderates Jeb Bush and John Kasich) it isn’t hard to imagine Rubio finally moving into the upper echelon of candidates.

Rubio Nov Debate

The really impressive feature of Rubio’s performance is that he was able to completely shut out all of the other candidates, holding at least a 30-point lead for the entire debate. No other candidate had even held the lead for a whole debate, let alone built on it like he did, ending over 50 points ahead of the next closest competitor. However, one has to wonder if he has hit his ceiling, and will start to pay for it during the next Republican debate. Some of our focus group members mentioned his history of great performances as a reason for why they didn’t think he improved his standing the most. It would seem inevitable that more voters share this viewpoint come next month, when Rubio will surely face a tougher road to gain his fourth victory.

Other than Rubio, the most interesting trend of the night is the general confusion that consumed the four outsider candidates, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump ended up floating around each other on the market for most of the night, as the traders failed to recognize one of them as the clear second choice candidate. This is an interesting break from precedent, since one of these four candidates has risen above the rest in each of the past three debates.

Outsider Nov Debate

In the final focus group poll, three of these candidates (Cruz, Fiorina, and Carson) received a sizable share of the vote, meaning this inability to select a winner of this faction was widespread. Should this continue in future debates, it might take one of these candidates dropping out or being relegated to the JV debate for the others to have a shot at winning it all.

Be sure to come back later this week for in-depth coverage and preview of the Democratic debate.

Debate Preview: Strategies and Odds for November GOP Debate

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 the next Republican debate only 7 hours away, it is time to start looking seriously at the candidates 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’s what you’ll have to see from each one in order to feel safe in an investment, and how likely that outcome is.

Tier One: The Frontrunner

Marco Rubio – 48.8%

Far and away the star of the last debate, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has rocketed straight to the top of the marketplace and stayed there, staying leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. His dominance is somewhat unprecedented; candidates rarely ever finish a debate above fifty percent, but there is a very real chance that Rubio might occupy that rarified air before the first question is asked. So the question we should be asking ourselves isn’t whether we think Rubio will win (apparently a great deal of us do), but how much of a shot we’re giving to everyone else to possibly unseat him.

I think it’s important here to look at the previous debates, where two recurring trends keep me hesitant in regards to Rubio. First, no candidate has been able to maintain a lead for an entire night. Scott Walker, came the closest, holding the lead for nearly all of the first debate, but that night famously ended in a collapse for the presumed frontrunner, as he watched Rubio, Bush, Kasich, and Paul outperform him in the final vote. Even Rubio, who entered the last debate as the frontrunner and ended with a commanding lead, didn’t separate from Carly Fiorina until more than halfway through. This means that while he may end up winning, he likely won’t give you much bang for your buck in the early-goings. Secondly, the candidates who receive the most media attention after a debate tend to receive extra scrutiny and underperform in the follow-up. It happened to Trump heading into the first debate, to Kasich in the second, Fiorina in the third, and could very well happen to Rubio tonight. Carson has been dominating the news cycle since the last debate, but perhaps Rubio’s rising stock will mean candidates more aggressive than Bush will go after him tonight.

Strategy: Hold off on buying him until the one-hour mark. At that point see if he’s going down or holding steady and adjust accordingly. Once we reach the end of the debate, he’ll be a good way to hedge your bets if you’re betting on a riskier candidate.

Tier Two: Ready To Break Through

Carly Fiorina – 13.2%

Carly Fiorina is without a doubt one of the three best debaters on the Republican stage. She stole the headlines back in August after not even being in the primetime debate, won hands-down in August, and was the only one to give Marco Rubio a run for his money just last month. And yet here she sits, a full thirty-five points behind the man she was neck-and-neck with for most of the last debate. Her failure to recapture the attention of our traders comes, I think, from her middling poll numbers, which have refused to rise for well over two months despite her great performances in the debates. This hasn’t really affected our traders or focus groups in the past, who thought that each performance would be the one voters see that finally brought them on board the Fiorina bandwagon. But that just hasn’t happened, and at this point many are doubting if it ever will.

I am not quite ready to completely give up on Fiorina’s chances to right her course, but I think it will take a little something extra from the business leader. She can’t go up on the Milwaukee stage tonight and give the same speeches and prepared answers she always has; if she wants to win she’s going to have to show something new to all of us. I think she has the oratorical skill to do it, and probably the political instinct to know it’s necessary, but it will still take a lot of luck to pull it off right tonight. If she doesn’t go this route, and simply sticks what got her here her price will likely rise, but don’t expect the headlines tomorrow to mention her.

Strategy: Buy in early, since her strong speaking skills will get her price to inevitably rise, but don’t hang on to the shares at the end unless she’s gone above and beyond.

Donald Trump – 11.8%

Donald Trump’s campaign thus far has been so unlike anything we’ve ever seen in American politics, it’s easy to convince yourself he has a chance at winning every debate, no matter how badly the market reacts to each of his previous performances. He has yet to end a debate with a higher price than he started with and has also never received a single vote from our focus group. But maybe our previous focus groups are just grading him on the wrong scale: When every other candidate is trying to win over voters but Trump is just holding on to his lead, it’s a little hard to compare his performance to everyone else. But now, Trump has a lot more incentive to improve his standing, both because of Carson pulling close in the polls and his sinking image (SNL seems to have done more harm than good). It still might not look like your traditional debate (I don’t think we’ll ever see a policy-focused performance from him), but if he goes after Carson and essentially ends the neurosurgeon’s campaign with all the scorn he has so far avoided heaping on Carson, I think he might do enough of his own thing to have an outside chance at winning.

Strategy: Trump’s price usually doesn’t go down until at least the first commercial break, so I’d say buy right at the start and then potentially sell based on the tone he sets in the opening. He has done better in past debates the less he focuses on himself and the more he focuses on tearing his opponents down, so wait to see which route he takes before buying more or selling off.

Ted Cruz – 5.7%

With Ben Carson seemingly on the brink of collapse, there will surely be a vacuum in the polls waiting to be filled by an outsider candidate. And Texas Senator Ted Cruz is poised to take that spot, ready to finally seize the spotlight he has been searching for since the campaign began. He’s got the outsider bona fides that primary voters have been craving this year, he’s coming off of his strongest debate yet, and he led the charge against the mainstream media for their poor questions, gaining support from even some of his bitterest rivals. Cruz finally has enough evidence and public opinion on his side to get ahead by marketing himself as an electable alternative to Carson, and perhaps even to Trump.

Of course, this will require that Cruz deviate slightly from his current strategy, which has him juxtaposed mainly with the other elected officials. Though this strategy made more sense when it was assumed Bush or Walker would win the nomination, it just won’t get him very far in the present GOP. Thus far, there has been a real hesitancy by the Republicans to go after the popular outsiders at the center of the stage, lest they face the wrath of the grassroots supporters who hold the key to the early states. But Cruz is running out of time and he knows it, and with all the ammunition he has collected, it really is now or never.

Strategy: I’m all in on Cruz as the dark horse who will shoot up by the end of the night. I’d buy big now or, if you can’t make the commitment, wait until you see how he’s positioning himself. If he tries to take down Rubio, he’ll only be helping the current leaders; if he goes after Carson and Bush, he has everything to gain.

Tier Three: The Long-Shots

Jeb Bush – 6.1%

After the catastrophic aftermath of his attack on Marco Rubio in the last debate, popular opinion says Jeb Bush, who was all but coronated as the nominee earlier this year, is circling the drain. Is there any hope for him to pull himself out of the gutter with one good debate? If you listen to the market, the answer is a resounding no. He trades at barely over 5%, isn’t getting much activity on either end, and seems to have joined the ranks of soon-to-be also-rans like Kasich and Paul. Running with the lead didn’t work for Bush, running as an outsider didn’t work, and once you have those tow strategies eliminated there really isn’t much left to do but pick who you’ll be endorsing.

But Bush has come too far to give up and go quietly into obscurity (I imagine that’s just natural when you’re applying for a job that two members of your immediate family have already had). He’s got at least one more desperation play left in him, and I would not be surprised if it came tonight. Bush’s real problem is that he looks so out of his element swinging for the fences, but if he can conquer that and reestablishes himself as the best moderate on stage, he will prolong his political life for at least another month. It might not pull him into the lead, but could it earn him the “most improved chances” honor that our focus group is looking for? Perhaps.

Strategy: With Bush it’s all about appearances tonight. If he looks as lost as he did last month, just avoid these stocks all night. But you should be able to tell if he’s comfortable during the opening statement and might want to sink a couple credits in if that is the case.

Ben Carson – 5.5%        

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson did relatively well for himself in the last debate, posting a good share of our focus group’s vote despite having his price drop down quite a bit during the night. But the two weeks since have been abysmal for the Carson camp, with every day bringing a new scandal over his misrepresented past (i.e. Mannatech and West Point) or some ridiculous statement he made. It is very hard to imagine a turn of events where Carson wins this debate, and even a “good” performance seems like a bit of a stretch so long as he stays in the news for such negative reasons.

The real question for Carson is whether he can stave off the demise the news media seems to be relishing in for another debate, giving him time to form a better recovery plan. The answer to that question will lie in the moderators of this Fox Business debate, desperate to distinguish themselves from their criticized CNBC counterparts. If they do this by being nicer to the candidates, caving in to their demands, and doing all they can to keep Fox’s future debates on the schedule (unlike NBC’s), then it will be clear skies for Carson. But if these hosts think what was lacking from the last two debates were journalistic rigor and strict enforcement of the rules, this could very well be the end of Carson’s chances to pass Trump.

Strategy: Even shorting Carson won’t give you a good enough profit to be worthwhile tonight, so I’d say just stay away.

John Kasich – 5.0%

Ohio Governor John Kasich is one of the trickiest candidates to predict. On the one hand, the only reason he is still on this stage and not relegated to the undercard debate is because of the surge he got from a good debate back in August. On the other, he hasn’t done much since then and he seems destined to go back down to the bottom of the pack eventually. I can’t imagine anything short of a miracle bringing him back to the top, especially if the moderators give him as little time as they did in the last debate. If you believe in Kasich, I won’t stop you from going in on this low-cost option, but I highly doubt you’ll be happy with that choice come 11:00.

Strategy: Unless something extraordinary happens, there’s no reason to buy.

Rand Paul – 3.5%

Much like Kasich, Rand Paul has really disappeared since the first debate, though not for lack of trying. But the sad truth is that the Kentucky Senator isn’t getting the grassroots support he thought his pseudo-libertarian message would bring, and he doesn’t know how to change that message to please the Trump and Carson supporters who would normally be his bread and butter. Even he has got that figured out, I don’t think any of us who aren’t in that group would recognize it when we see it. If Paul ever does get declared the winner of this debate, it will only be because he rises in the polls, something we won’t know until well after the night is over.

Strategy: Again, too much of a long shot to buy, too low a price to recommend shorting.

The Four Biggest Questions For The Republican Debate

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 two debates coming up in the next week, it’d be easy to get overwhelmed by all of the things happening in the political world when forming your Ballotcraft strategy. So to break it down a bit for you, we’ll be looking at the storylines you should be following to succeed on Tuesday night’s Republican debate. We’ll have a candidate-by-candidate analysis for you Tuesday afternoon, but for now, here are the four biggest questions leading up to the Republican debate.

Will Rubio and Fiorina carry momentum?

First off, let’s deal with the only two candidates to walk away with wins in our previous debate games, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina. Not only are these two the only competitors to have ever gone the distance, they were also the only two candidates to pull away from the pack in last week’s CNBC debate. The big question you have to consider isn’t whether these two will do well on Tuesday, because it’s pretty obvious that they will. The question is whether, on a less crowded stage with more capable moderators, these two will be able to so quickly and effectively separate themselves from the six other Republicans. The utter chaos of the CNBC debate allowed for Rubio and Fiorina to appear poised and presidential without much effort: Fiorina had to tie her responses only tangentially to the questions asked before embarking on one of her trademark speeches, and Rubio didn’t have to try hard to appear more fit for office than the other establishment candidates, who gave in to the pandemonium of the debate rather than take Rubio on rhetorically. But with new hosts, fewer competitors, and a different format, more will be required to rise to the top and, if Rubio and Fiorina aren’t expecting stiffer competition, that might take some time.

The other thing keeping these two from continuing to plow through the competition is that neither one has seen their poll numbers rise all too dramatically since the last debate (granted, it’s only been a week, but still the four polls released since then have shown almost no change for either candidate).  So even though they are impressing the traders and focus groups, they haven’t been resonating with the voters. This could mean they change tactics Tuesday night, or it could mean they receive difficult questions on why they think they are struggling in the polls. Either way, the lack of newfound support cannot make their path to repeating victory any easier.

Currently, Rubio is trading near 50%, a price which will almost certainly come down in the coming days. Fiorina is at a much more reasonably priced 9%, which is probably going to rise up to the mid-teens before she takes the stage in a few days. Given the hurdles these two candidates will face in the debate, I recommend shorting Rubio and putting a small investment in Fiorina until the prices become a bit more stable.

How will the dynamic change with fewer candidates?

One of the biggest changes for the debate Tuesday was announced just two days ago: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will not be joining the other candidates on the primetime debate stage. For the first time, there will be less than 10 Republicans debating together in the main debate, a move which is sure to have some interesting ripple effects in the market. The first assumption you might make is that this is going to give every candidate a boost, and let candidates who have been hurting for time (Senator Paul and Governor Kasich come to mind) get more of a chance to prove their mettle. But this assumes that Fox Business will split the time that would have been taken up by the two governors among all candidates equally, which may not be the case. If Fox instead decides to reward the candidates in the center of stage who are leading the polls, this move may only further consolidate the market to three or four candidates.

Personally, I think Fox will take the hint from the RNC and try to whittle the field down even further in their debate. That means we probably won’t see much more time for low-polling candidates like Kasich and Paul, and those on the cusp like Cruz and Bush will probably see more scrutiny if they do get more time. While I think the prices will even out a bit more before the debate, once they start on Tuesday night you should only invest in the tried and true.

Will Carson and Trump finally live up to their poll numbers?

If Fox is trying to create a clearer picture of which candidates are actually poised to win the nomination, then it stands to reason they’d give a bigger share of the questions to the polling leaders. In this case that means Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the two Republicans whose middling performances in the past three debates have done seemingly nothing to slow their momentum in the polls. Again, the two candidates have relatively high prices compared to their past finishes, with Trump at 17% and Carson at 7%.

Trump comes into the debate having released his latest book “Crippled America” earlier this week. The book detailed many of Trump’s policy positions for the first time and will give the real estate mogul plenty of chances to separate himself from Carson by appearing more fit for the actual job of governing. Carson, on the other hand, comes in after another week of terrible press following the poorly managed Mannatech scandal and awkward statements claiming the pyramids were built by Joseph to store grain. Doubling down on these statements may help Carson hold on to his base, but will likely alienate undecided voters like those in our focus group. However, we have not seen Carson take a more moderate approach in these debates, and a reversal or admission of wrongdoing here could backfire immensely if done improperly. His interviews on the Sunday talk shows this week and his opening statements Tuesday will give you a good idea of how he plans to tackle these issues on the stage.

Will the moderators change course or give us more of the same?

However, none of this matters if the moderators for the Fox Business debate do as poor a job as their CNBC counterparts. The trio of Gerard Baker, Neil Cavuto, and Maria Bartiromo, while better than the untested moderators of last week, still have very little experience in political interviews and even less in moderating debates. Fox News’ debate is unquestionably the best debate of the three we’ve seen, but they had anchors headlining the event who wouldn’t back down from the candidates. Will that strong-willed spirit trickle down to the lesser anchors on Fox’s lesser channel, or will this just be a rerun of the uncontrollable mess we saw on CNBC?

If it’s the former, then this might not be the best time for Fiorina and Carson to be going through scandals due to questionable statements. Megyn Kelly famously called Trump out on his perceived sexism during the first debate, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for one of these moderators to do the same to Carson for the plethora of dubious facts he’s been spreading on the campaign trail. This would also mean we get what we were promised last week: a debate on the economy and business. That would be a big blow to Cruz, Carson, and Paul, who resonate more for their foreign or social policy than fiscal. Meanwhile, Bush would benefit from being able to bring up his strong economic record as governor of Florida.

If the latter holds more true, and candidates talk over each other (or the moderators) without any semblance of punishment again, expect results similar to last time. Rubio will once again become the establishment candidate of choice while Fiorina leads the outsiders with her strong oratorical skills. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it’d be pretty predictable.

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:

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


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.