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Tips for WH2020: Bullock, Hickenlooper – and Trump

October 21st, 2017

The field is too clogged up with the debris and echoes of 2016

One of the enduring mysteries of political betting is the continuing strength of David Miliband in the Next Labour Leader market. Despite his not having sat in the Commons for four and a half years, despite his showing no inclination to return, despite there being little opportunity to return in the near term, despite his politics now being completely out of line with a Labour Party whose membership is utterly transformed from the one he left in 2013, and despite his close association with Blair – hardly flavour of the month these days – his odds are no longer than 33/1 anywhere and are ludicrously as short as 14/1 (co-fifth favourite!) with BetStars. In reality, he should be at least 200/1.

The mystery is perhaps best solved by looking at punters rather than bookies. For all the evidence, some people place far more weight on the past and far too little on the present and the future.

What is true of Britain is even more true of the United States, with its four-year presidential cycle. Of the nine Democrats listed at 40/1 or less, four will be in their seventies by Inauguration Day 2021. They include two former candidates, Biden (78) and Sanders (79), and one frequently speculated about as a potential candidate, Elizabeth Warren (71). Following Trump’s victory, proving that inexperience in politics was no bar to victory, the top of the list is unusually heavy with celebrities and businessmen. Mark Zuckerberg is priced at just 33s (his current age, as it happens), with Oprah Winfrey at 40s. Several more are rated as 50/1, as, for that matter, is Hillary Clinton.

I’m sceptical about the chances of most if not all of the above. The first and most important question is: will they run? As with the Miliband example in Britain, the field at this stage in the cycle tends to be heavily influenced by considerations of the last campaign, not the next one. Square pegs are attempted to be hammered into round holes. Hence Biden, who should have run in 2016 but will be too old in 2020, or Warren, who offers little that Hillary Clinton didn’t. As for non-politicians, they rarely run. Trump is a highly unusual exception and is proving the difficulty of changing careers as he has.

I ought to be equally sceptical about the woman who is the fourth-favourite Democrat, Michelle Obama. Surely 25/1 is too short? Is this not just lazy thinking, tied back to a mixture of the Obama White House and Hillary’s ex-First Lady presidential bid? That was certainly my first impression, bolstered by previous comments that she wouldn’t run for office and past polling that’s shown the public to be unsympathetic to the idea of her candidature.

In truth, 25/1 is too short, but only a little. For all that she doesn’t want to run, the fact is that her husband remains hugely popular among Democrats and with decent ratings in the country at large. The only problem is that he can’t run again; not under his own name anyway. That is of course hugely patronising to Michelle, who is an accomplished speaker in her own right and a far more human and sympathetic figure than Hillary ever was. All the same, I doubt if she’d be so high up the favourites were the promise of two-for-one not a consideration. Unless some rising star can break through, the pressure will no doubt continue to mount as Democrats survey a field of has-beens, second-raters and enthusiastic amateurs and come to the conclusion that Trump could potentially beat any of them.

Are there such candidates? At this stage, it’s hard to tell. Kamala Harris (18/1) and Cory Booker (33/1) are ‘next generation’ in the senses both of following those now in their seventies and in when they broke through into national politics, even if they’re both in their fifties. All the same, I’m not convinced by the odds. Harris’s have dropped following speculation that she’ll run which of itself is fair enough but I think they’ve overshot. Booker is also being touted but I’m far from convinced that the US is ready to elect a man who’s never married and who refuses to address questions about his sexuality.

In terms of value, I’d look even down the field, into the zone where there are all sorts of oddball candidates, together with some who I think shouldn’t be there. Two who shouldn’t be there, both available at 100/1, are the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, and the governor of Montana, Steve Bullock.

But there’s only so much value to be extracted that far down. Some also exists at the top. I’ve said that there are precious few Democrats worth backing. That’s because one Republican in particular is too long, namely the president himself: Donald Trump. For him to be 5/2 to win re-election is for punters to forget all the lessons that should have been learned in 2016. Never underestimate his chances against an opponent with a weak spot.

David Herdson