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.
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.