New odds on the Democrats

New odds on the Democrats
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The bettors’ odds on the Democratic presidential race, according to the Real Clear Politics averages, put former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger pens op-ed in defense of Biden: 'I stuttered once, too. I dare you to mock me' MORE at 25 percent, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Environmental activists interrupt Buttigieg in New Hampshire Pence to visit Iowa days before caucuses MORE at 21 percent and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Environmental activists interrupt Buttigieg in New Hampshire Pence to visit Iowa days before caucuses MORE (D-Mass.) at 18 percent. That sounds about right to me.

A little over a month ago, the odds gave Warren better than a 50 percent chance to win the nod, more than double Biden's prospects, with Mayor Pete barely visible. And that seemed about right to me.

One bit of advice: Don't bet on what the bettors will be betting on a month from now.

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More than any nomination contest in memory, this race is unsettled a little more than weeks before the first votes are to be counted.

That enhances the prospect — still probably no better than 50-50 — that no aspirant goes into next July's Milwaukee convention with the necessary majority of delegates. Still, if you want to pick a trifecta, without much payoff, take Biden, Warren or Buttigieg. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary MORE (I-Vt.), some outsider or a late entry are more than real long shots.

Each of the three most likely has considerable challenges.

The Biden campaign and candidacy have to step up their campaign. Democrats say there is serious consideration to bring in a new campaign manager. Much more important is to get, if possible, a more focused candidate.

One issue Biden must deal with is his son Hunter's work for a Ukrainian energy company. It is abundantly clear that as vice president, Biden performed commendably to pressure Ukraine to fire a corrupt prosecutor and didn't help his son's business interests.

But Hunter Biden never should have been on that board.

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It's insufficient for the candidate to say he didn't do anything wrong and it won't happen again if he's president. The Republicans on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees — and their counsels — may be lying about the Bidens… But this isn't going away, Joe.

Politically, Biden has to do okay in the first two contests, Iowa and New Hampshire. He may not have to win, but dismal showings will make it exceedingly difficult to rebound in South Carolina and the big March 3 “Super Tuesday” primaries.

Warren launched with the most compelling narrative: It's a rigged system run by the rich and special interests. She makes the case with persuasive passion, proving a better stump campaigner than expected.

But her determination to match Sanders on the left caused her to embrace the single-payer health insurance and eliminating private insurance. For the past couple months, she has been backing and filling, first doubling down on single-payer, then retreating a bit. This tracks with her drop in the polls and betting odds.

Warren has to win one of those first two contests, especially neighboring New Hampshire. In key state and national polls, she and Sanders — combined — capture roughly a third of the vote. I don't see how she wins without peeling away some of Bernie's hard-core support, and so far, she has resisted contrasts with the Vermont socialist.

Buttigieg, the 37-year-old surprising star of this campaign so far, has to show he can take a punch. With his surge in the polls, he's getting plenty: questions about his policies to what, exactly, did he do a decade ago for the big global consulting firm, McKinsey?

Having surged to the lead in the prized Iowa poll, Buttigieg can ill afford now to slip, like Howard Dean did in 2004. He has to win Iowa to have a shot at the nomination.

As well as the presidential political season, it's also football playoffs season.

The current odds favor the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl; I like that bet.

On the college playoffs, Louisiana State is a slight favorite, with Clemson and Ohio State closely bunched behind in the betting.

On the more important presidential betting, there's also close to a three-way tie that's even less certain.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.