The race has finally officially begun! This week, the bloated field of Democratic primary candidates took to the debate stage – half of Wednesday, and the other half on Thursday night – and made their first respective cases to the American public to become their next President. There were undeniably some exciting moments, but with ten prospective nominees taking the stage on each night, there was hardly any time for real substance.
For many of the lower-tier candidates – like Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio, and Jay Inslee — this week was an opportunity to introduce themselves to the public. For Elizabeth Warren, the debates helped to show her recent surge in the polls is warranted and that she’s going to be a legitimate player in the 2020 race. And front-runner Joe Biden just wanted to get through Thursday night without doing anything meme-worthy and blowing his chances altogether (whoops!).
One thing is for sure: we need to get about half of these people to drop out of the race ASAP. With barely any time to respond to questions about extremely complicated issues, lots of interruptions, and constant wrestling with the moderators over when to stop talking, it’s hard to definitively say who really benefitted from either night.
What I’m most interested in is how the first round of debates affected the Democratic primary betting markets, and to my surprise, things have changed quite a bit! Let’s see how the oddsmakers feel about the race. I’ll continue using the betting odds from MyBookie.ag for the sake of consistency with my previous articles.
2020 Democratic Primary Odds Following the Two Nights of Debates
Big Changes in the Betting Lines
What immediately stood out to me is how many of the betting markets have disappeared! Gone are many of my favorite joke lines like Dwayne Johnson, George Clooney, Al Franken, and Mark Zuckerberg; MyBookie.ag is ready to get serious apparently. It’s good to see that Oprah Winfrey is hanging in there though and getting the same odds as several candidates that participated in the debates.
Two of the most dramatic line movements have been for Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren.
Poor Beto seems to have been absolutely derailed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg – another young, energetic progressive – who has much of the same appeal, only appears a little smarter and more substantive. He even knows how to speak more languages, which really kicks dirt all over one of O’Rourke’s favorite crowd-pleasing tricks.
Back in March, Beto was sitting at +350 and poised to be one of the top two or three favorites to win the nomination and take on Trump. Now, he’s fallen all the way to +1800 and appears to be getting lost in the shuffle.
That being said, he still has an excellent team around him, led by Jennifer O’Malley, a political strategist who worked on Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau campaigns – she definitely has a type.
I wouldn’t be opposed to laying a few bucks on O’Rourke while he’s got such long odds, in case O’Malley is able to pull some magic and remind Democrats why they were so inspired by this guy only a year ago in Texas.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has climbed in the polls and the betting odds, quickly becoming a central figure in the early primaries. When she was still priced at +800, I wrote:
“Elizabeth Warren isn’t expected to make too much noise as a Presidential candidate in 2020, but I see some serious spoiler potential in her. Of all the candidates in the Democratic primaries, she’s the only choice on which I’ve already placed a bet…Such a skillful policy-maker is going to play a central role in deciding the nomination, whether she makes it to the convention or not.”
The morning after Thursday’s debate, she’s now at +450, behind only Joe Biden, and tied with Mayor Pete. I expect her to continue rising up the board in the next couple of weeks while Biden loosens his grip on the top spot as the betting favorite.
Warren appeared to benefit greatly from the way the candidates were divided between nights one and two. She was the only Wednesday night participant polling in the top five and was literally given center stage with respects to her podium placement.
The Massachusetts Senator was given the opportunity to hit on her main themes early, delivering a populist message about making the government work for American citizens again instead of corporations.
What I found the most fascinating though, is how she was extremely active in the debates at the beginning, but then kind of stood back for the last third. It also seems noteworthy that Senator Warren never mentioned Trump once. Whatever the case, her team seems to know what they’re doing based on the way she’s climbing.
Debate Night 1: Wednesday, June 26
Night One Participants:
Despite selecting the two groups of candidates at random and apparently attempting to avoid having one debate full of heavyweights and the other a “kiddie table,” so to speak, the fields of ten ended up being quite lopsided. With Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg all scheduled for Thursday, Elizabeth Warren was the only top-five candidate on the stage Wednesday night.
There were questions going into the first round of debates about whether this would hurt or help the Massachusetts Senator, but I’m definitely saying the draw worked in her favor. She was placed in the center podium and given lots of time and attention early.
Some pundits are calling Wednesday night a loss for Warren due to her inactivity later in the night, but I say that’s nonsense; she shined brightest when the highest number of viewers were tuned in and still paying attention.
After an hour or so of short pre-scripted quips, candidates desperately arguing over each other, and a never-ending barrage of Chuck Todd attempting to politely cut everyone off as they went over their time, I’m fairly certain everyone was digitally lobotomized anyway.
Beto Can’t Catch a Break
Apparently, nobody bothered to tell the other candidates that Elizabeth Warren was the one in the lead coming into the night, and that that’s who you’d usually try to take down a peg. Instead, a couple of participants – Julian Castro and Bill de Blasio – showed up on Wednesday with their sights set on Beto.
Although, it didn’t help that he also came across as overly scripted and polished and failed to give any sort of substantive answers when asked questions on policy. He did answer half of his first question in Spanish though!
Castro – the former Mayor of San Antonio – went straight after O’Rourke on immigration, blasting the former congressman for not calling for a repeal of the federal law that makes illegal entry into the country a criminal offense. You could almost see the Texas-sized look of betrayal on poor Beto’s face. “I thought we were bros, Juls,” said the eyes of O’Rourke.
If that wasn’t bad enough for the former contender, Bill “freaking” de Blasio came out of nowhere swinging haymakers at El Paso RFK too!
While Beto was giving his spiel on health care, which includes retaining employer-provided private insurance, the New York Mayor interjected, “Private insurance is not working for tens of millions of Americans.” The way it was delivered made de Blasio look strong and totally derailed O’Rourke.
Why is everyone going after Beto instead of Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders, the actual leaders in the race at the moment!?!
Tulsi Gabbard Has “It”
For many Americans, Wednesday night was their first introduction to Tulsi Gabbard, who is staunchly anti-war, which naturally makes her the enemy of the establishment ruling class. She’s received almost zero media coverage and has been attacked as a “Russian plant” when left-leaning outlets do discuss her, despite being a veteran of our armed forces.
Gabbard owned the topic of foreign policy, making Tim Ryan look like a clown at one point. During a heated exchange about pulling the troops out of Afghanistan, Ryan argued that “When we weren’t in there, they started flying planes into our buildings.”
Tulsi quickly corrected the Ohio congressman, explaining that the Taliban had nothing to do with the attacks. “That’s why I and other people joined the military,” she continued, “to go after Al Qaeda. Not the Taliban.” The congresswoman exercised her advantage as the only soldier on the stage brilliantly.
Again, none of the moneyed powers in this country have any patience for an anti-war President, so you won’t see her getting much credit for her performance, but I think Tulsi Gabbard is going to see a boost in the polls. According to FiveThiryEight.com, the Hawaiian congresswoman was second only to Corey Booker in search traffic on Wednesday night.
The Cory Booker Stare
By most metrics, Cory Booker had an excellent night. He led the pack in terms of total words spoken during the debate, scored some big points talking about gun control, spoke a little Spanish, and led all candidates in Google searches for the night. The New Jersey Senator also became a meme, which could be a positive or a negative – that’s yet to be seen.
While Beto O’Rourke spoke Spanish for the first time of the night, Booker gave him a side-eyed glare that quickly caught the attention of the internet. Within minutes Twitter was pumping out hilarious memes, with captions like “When you realize you studied for the wrong test.”
Senator Booker has taken it all in stride and even posted the photo himself as a response to a Donald Trump Jr. Tweet. When asked about the glare, he said,
“You know, it was a good lesson for me that the camera is always on when you’re on those stages. I usually have a better poker face than that.”
Regardless, Wednesday night is being hailed as a success for the Senator. While I have a hard time believing some of his tough talk on Big Pharma, based on how much money he’s received from them in the past, Booker appears to be a viable candidate in this race moving forward.
His odds have moved from +1200 in March to +4000 currently, so if you’re interested in betting on the Democratic primaries, now is the time to grab Cory Booker with some significant value.
Debate Night 2: Wednesday, June 27
Night Two Participants:
On Thursday night we got the Democratic “A-team” on the debate stage. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have long been considered the two front-runners in the race, despite the betting odds not quite reflecting that reality. The bookmakers haven’t shown a ton of faith in Bernie reigniting the magic of his 2016 campaign, making him a +900 semi-underdog in March, and only moving him to +550 – where he’s tied with Kamala Harris and trailing Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg – today.
My Bernie Sanders Conspiracy Theory
I think I agree with the oddsmakers on this one. If I put my tinfoil hat on for a moment, this field of candidates almost seems perfectly manufactured to prevent another run at the White House for Sanders. Where, in 2016, Bernie’s progressive message stood in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s, now he’s surrounded by candidates with similar beliefs.
Based on what I’ve seen, it looks like each of them will pull a specific demographic away from that large base that he drew before.
Mayor Pete has similar policy ideas, but will attract a large portion of the gay vote and possibly veterans; Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are both women with progressive messages; Beto and Castro will hit with Hispanic voters; and Booker and Harris will likely appeal to the African American voting block if Joe Biden loses them.
Plus, all of these like-minded progressives are younger and seemingly more energetic than the OG Democratic Socialist. If I were the Democratic Party leadership and needed to rig the primaries against Sanders again without looking so obvious, this is precisely the strategy I’d use to sneak Biden in there as everyone’s second choice.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris
Alright, I’m taking off my tinfoil hat now. Mainly because that plan requires Joe Biden not to shoot himself in the foot on the way to his primary victory, which may have already happened on Thursday. More specifically, Biden loaded the gun and stuck his foot out on Tuesday when touting his ability to cooperate and work with politicians with different viewpoints than his own – in this case, segregationists in the ‘70s.
Kamala Harris then finished the foot shooting for him by addressing the controversy on stage. While Biden was attempting to make a point about cooperating despite ideological differences, the comment — and others he made in 1975 to against the federal government’s role in bussing – put him on the defensive while scoring some of Harris’ most important points of the night.
In fact, Kamala Harris may have been the breakout star of the Thursday night debates. She also walloped Trump, blasting his tax cuts and the situation at the border – emotionally attacking the US’s policy of separating children from their families in detention.
At +550 betting odds, Harris is a bargain at the moment. There was something about her presence on the stage on Thursday night that you could tell she’s going to play a prominent role in the 2020 elections – one way or another. I can see her and Elizabeth Warren sharing the lead by mid-July.
Mayor Pete is a Star
Pete Buttigieg is an extraordinarily effective communicator, which has been apparent since he burst onto the national scene a couple of months ago, and was the case once again on Thursday. Of all the politicians in this race, he seems to do the best job of appearing to be speaking off the cuff with well-articulated and charming answers.
I know he’s more rehearsed than he lets on, because I’ve watched him repeat the same stories and anecdotes in multiple interviews, but he’s so good at it. Still, there’s just something about him that seems honest, which he further conveyed by admitting failure in his duties as Mayor to reduce tensions in South Bend between black residents and the police force.
With limited speaking time and a mess of a debate format, he managed to stay solid and appear confident and competent on every topic on which the Mayor spoke. He landed a fascinating blow on the Republicans and Trump’s administration regarding their claims of being the “Christian party,” saying:
“The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion…To suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
There’s something particularly interesting about the first openly gay candidate for the Presidency of the United States also appealing to Christian voters. Popular media usually treats these two qualities as mutually exclusive, which Buttigieg is challenging in an elegant way.
All of that being said, I can’t help but feel he’s somewhat overpriced at +450 betting odds. There’s a lot to like about Mayor Pete: he speaks 8 languages, was a Rhodes Scholar, is a military veteran who served in a combat zone and has been instrumental in improving South Bend, Indiana’s economy.
Nevertheless, “electability” is going to become an issue for him and something his Democratic opponents will quietly attack him with, while not wanting to come out and actually say what they’re really implying, which is that they’re concerned his sexuality will be a problem in the general elections.
I’d wait to wager on Mayor Pete Buttigieg until we see the field thin out some, or his price reaches +650 or so.
Yang Gang Ignored, Swalwell and Williams Potentially Crazy People
I’ve been hearing a lot about Andrew Yang and his dramatic proposal to give every adult in the country $1000 per month to do with whatever they please. After appearing on Joe Rogan’s podcast, the relative newcomer received a surge of support and attention that netted him enough financial contributions to qualify for the debate. Unfortunately, he’s much better at explaining his ideas in a long-form interview than in short debate stage snippets.
For the most part, a tie-less (first time I’ve ever seen a candidate go without a tie) Yang just hung out at the podium watching the debate go by. The few times he got to speak, he kind of explained how giving $1000 to every adult would “trickle up” and fix all of our country’s woes, but by the second or third time he gave this same solution to a different issue, the crowd was almost snickering at him.
Fortunately for Andrew, he had Marianne Williamson and Eric Swalwell there to distract from any of his perceived shortcomings with their own brands of goofiness. I’m sure I’m misinterpreting this in some way, but at one point, Williamson gave an impassioned speech about how “love is a weapon,” and I’m pretty sure she argued that policies aren’t crucial in beating Trump because all you need is love. So, I mean – she’s not going to win, and that’s obvious.
Swalwell seemed to think that making old age jokes at the expense of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders was the way to approach the debate. After his “pass the torch to the next generation” line didn’t land the way he imagined at first, he tried it a couple more times to what I seem to remember as audible groans. He pretty much lost the crowd for the rest of the night and should probably just call it a campaign at this point.
As far as Democratic primaries betting is concerned, Andrew Yang’s odds have drastically improved from an absurd +12500 in March to +1250 – so, he’s ten times more likely to win now than before. But, realistically, a zero-percent chance of winning times ten is still zero. The other two don’t even have odds posted for them while Oprah still does, which pretty much sums it all up.
Who Were the Winners?
It’s challenging to draw any definite conclusions or claim that anyone “won” the first debates due to the utter chaos of it all. There are simply too many people on the stage to get any coherent ideas going. They would have been much better served arranging four one-hour debates with five participants apiece.
Also, what constitutes a win is relative to each candidate and where they sat at the beginning of the night. Based on their standings coming into the debates, how the media has reacted, and how I felt watching the festivities; here’s how I see it.
The Big Winners
She had top billing in the Wednesday night debates, the best spot on the stage, and clearly hit her principal issues in an effective way early on. While she may have faded out towards the end, she made enough of a lasting impression to be seen as a legitimate threat to win the nomination and came across as presidential.
Some of Harris’ practices as a prosecutor in California make it hard for me to like her, but she came across extremely well on Thursday. She owned the most memorable moments on a star-studded debate stage and dealt a significant blow to the Biden campaign. She’s a sure-fire top-three finisher.
While his best moments weren’t as dramatic as the others, Mayor Pete came across as an honest, remarkably intelligent, and capable progressive candidate. His ability to communicate complex issues in quick, easily digestible soundbites is a massive advantage in this debate format.
Strong Showings but Need to See More
I was very close to putting Cory Booker in the “Big Winners” category, but I’m not sure he did enough to be considered with those three. Still, he had some powerful moments, particularly on gun control. He also piqued people’s interest enough to inspire the most Google searches, though I suspect the “Booker stare” memes played a role in those numbers. At +4000 betting odds, he’s definitely worth keeping a closer eye on going forward; that price is a steal.
Tulsi went from being completely ignored and written off by the media to the second-most Googled debate participant, and that’s without having any meme-worthy moments of her own to drive searches. The congresswoman came across as an authority on foreign policy, and her anti-war message is going to resonate with way more Americans than the media will ever admit.
Bernie came across fine, but I don’t feel like he’s resonating the same way as he did in 2016. His ideas aren’t necessarily so radical anymore, and he’s four years older while surrounded by young progressives. Senator Sanders still comes across as an authority figure and elder statesman amongst this field of politicians that he opened the door for by moving the party further left, however. It wasn’t a spectacular showing, but I don’t think he hurt himself in any way.
What Happens Next?
Now that the first round of debates is complete, the Democratic primaries are off to the races! From this point forward, this sizable field of candidates will be campaigning non-stop in an effort to separate themselves from the pack.
With any luck, between five and ten of these people will fall out of the race before July 30 and 31. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely, given they scheduled it for two nights again, and the qualifications are the same as they were for round one.
If there’s any mercy to be had in this world, Marianne Williamson, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, and John Delaney will all drop out in the next few weeks. None of you have a chance at winning the primaries, much less the general election, save us your interruptions and nonsense while the legitimate candidates are speaking!
Predicting how the next month of the campaign will go, I see Biden dropping in the polls, but not out of the top five. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren will be the two favorites, with Bernie Sanders closely trailing in third. Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden will be in fourth and fifth, though I’m not sure what order.
I also think Tulsi Gabbard is going to shoot up the ranking into sixth or seventh. I see strong potential in her to be this year’s candidate of choice for those anti-establishment outsiders that jumped to Trump in 2016 after they got mad about Hillary Clinton stealing the nomination. She could be in for one of those scrappy Ron Paul-esque runs that are further fueled by her perceived unfair treatment by the Democratic Party and the media.
The most fascinating campaign to watch going forward is Beto O’Rourke’s. It’s impossible to tell whether he can rebound from the last month or so and regain his momentum, or if things are already too far off course. He hasn’t felt like the same candidate since Mayor Pete joined the race, but he has the right team around him. It’s still very early, and Beto raised lots of money very quickly only a couple of months ago.
If you’re looking for political betting value right now, here are my picks: