Friday, December 02, 2011

Election 2012 Preview: Handicapping the Primaries, Part IV

One month and one day from today, the Iowa caucuses mark the official kickoff of the 2012 election season. The race has been going full-tilt for about six months now, but this will be the first time that actual voters will be able to weigh in on who they think should contest the Presidency in November, 2012. The time for prognosticating will be mostly over, and we'll actually have real results to chew on. So, for the last time before the voting starts, let's see how the wagering community sees it. (As before, all data from Intrade, current as of Friday afternoon.)

Democratic Party: I'm only including this because I'm a stickler for completeness. By now, it ought to be blindingly obvious that the Obama/Biden ticket will be up for re-election in November.

Barack Obama, 93.5%: In this case, "blindingly obvious" doesn't quite amount to 100% just yet. But that's because you have a few adventurous folks, who are taking a long-odds flier on...

Hillary Clinton, 6.1%: Can't blame 'em. At that price, you'll make over ten for one, if it happens. Which it won't. As I've said earlier, eligible sitting Presidents who want the job never lose renomination. It just doesn't happen.

Joe Biden, 0.6%: Now there's a long shot for you. But sorry, that's money you'll never see again. See above.

Republican Party: And here's where things start to get interesting. We've had several candidates surge, and crash, in succession. First Trump, then Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain. Now ... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Mitt Romney, 48.2%: Romney has held a fairly steady lead, but his lead is eroding. In the early debates, he really did look like the only adult in the room. Unfortunately, he also looks uncannily like a collaboration between MIT's artificial intelligence lab and their cybernetics department. That is, he looks like a human, talks like a human, but doesn't quite pull off the imitation convincingly. On top of that, a fairly sizable chunk of the Republican electorate has serious misgivings about his religion. This is, and isn't, a head-scratcher for me. On the one hand, I've had Mormon neighbors, and you just won't find any better. On the other, I've talked to Baptists who are convinced that Mormons aren't Christians. In this case, ultimately, the latter will trump the former. Maybe Romney can overcome this, but probably not.

Newt Gingrich, 36.0%: And here we have the "not-Romney" flavor of the month. This honestly surprised me. As late as July, Gingrich was down to 1%, and I'd counted him DOA. With my trusty 20-20 hindsight, I can see that he's taking a few cues from the John McCain playbook, who was similarly left for dead in the summer of 2007. Gingrich is a lot of things, stupid isn't one of them. Dude's got an earned doctorate in history. He wasn't quite good enough to earn tenure, which is why he entered politics, but he's no dullard. He's a thoroughly bad man, but not a dumb one. And he's cresting at just about the perfect time. A win or place in Iowa and/or New Hampshire, plus a win in South Carolina, sets him up nicely for February and March.

John Huntsman, 5.8%: This is about where he started back in March. He's been lower, and he's been higher, but his campaign really hasn't gotten a whole lot of traction. But I'm convinced that he's really positioning himself for 2016. Oh, he'd take the 2012 nomination if it came his way. But look at what he's saying. He's positioning himself as the man who was right, when the rest of the candidates had gone stone barking mad. Look for him to check out fairly early, and resurface sometime in 2014.

Ron Paul, 4.5%: Ron Paul, on the other hand, will give up the race when they strip it from his cold, dead hands. He'll tell you that he wants to be President. And he's probably sincere in that. But, part of the point is that the campaign trail is a bully pulpit for issues near and dear to his heart. And that's fine. I'll drink a toast to his health. I don't agree with him on most things, but society needs its professional heretics.

Rick Perry, 2.3%: Oh, dear. The voting age has been 18 since I started elementary school. He's had plenty of time to learn that little fact. But, evidently, not enough time. If the governorship of Texas were a real job, I'd be concerned. But it's not, so we're OK. Consider Governor Perry to be the comedy relief for this campaign season.

Michelle Bachmann, 1.4%: Bachmann is up about half a point from mid-October. I still think she might get a bit of a spike out of a strong showing in Iowa, which is still a non-trivial possibility. But no one outside of Iowa will vote for someone with Marty Feldman eyes. So, she'll probably punch out before March.

Herman Cain, 0.6%: By the time you read this, he will probably have withdrawn. I was sure that his candidacy would come unglued when the campaign swung into the South. I had no idea it would come unglued because of his ... vigorous extracirricular activities. Seems like there's one every year, doesn't it? And it's an equal-opportunity failing, too; it was Edwards last time around. Take a note, gentlemen: there are problems you will never have, if you stay faithful.

And the winner is... By party, the Democrats are ahead 50.9% to 46.5%. By individual, Barack Obama leads the pack at 50.8%. Two factors weigh somewhat in his favor. One, unemployment is on the way down. It's still not good, but it's below 9% for the first time in a long while. Going into the summer, the things to look for are unemployment rate, gas prices, and the general tenor of the foreign situation. While they don't look great, they're trending OK so far. Plus, Intrade is showing a 30% probability that some damn fool like Trump or Palin will mount a third-party bid. This probability goes up if Romney ends up with the Republican nomination.

As I've said before, I'd still put a couple of bucks on Obama/Biden for the win. The odds are tightening up, but if you can find any takers, go for it.

The primary season starts in earnest on January 3, 2012. Vote early, and vote often!

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