It was just hours after George W. Bush had been re-elected President of the United States in 2004 that sportsbooks began posting betting lines on who would win a four-year lease on the Oval Office in 2008.
John McCain, the Arizona Senator, and Hilary Clinton, the Senator from New York, remain the frontrunners for the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. McCain, because of his maverick nature, has appeal with moderates, swing voters and conservative Democrats. That would be a formidable foe in the general election but, ironically, that same independent streak—-he strayed from conservative orthodoxy on judges, taxes and gay rights--could hurt him in the GOP nomination process where Evangelical Christians and conservative activists, groups less than enamored with his stance on those issues, are a formidable voting block, particularly in the primaries.
Clinton has the opposite problem. While the former First Lady is wildly popular in Democratic circles and, should she decide to run, would be difficult to beat for the party’s nomination, remains a polarizing figure and could have difficulty winning a general election where many already have a fixed, negative opinion of her.
That said, most betting lines still favor a McCain-Clinton showdown in 2008, although juicy, double-digit prices abound for other hopefuls such as former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani (R), Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R), former Vice President Al Gore (D), Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (D), Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (D), former North Carolina Senator John Edwards (D), Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R), retired General Wesley Clark (D) and Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D).
Posting betting lines and/or betting on the outcome of presidential elections are not new. The practices gained attention in 1948 when legendary oddsmaker and gambler Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder predicted that heavy underdog Harry S. Truman, who had been elevated to the presidency when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in 1945, would beat GOP standard-bearer and heavy favorite James Dewey, the Governor of New York.
Snyder based his prediction on the fact that Dewey wore a mustache and his belief that women would find that the facial hair made Dewey look “sneaky.”
At least that’s the way the story goes.
Truman did prevail at the ballot box, famously holding up a newspaper whose headline erroneously proclaimed Dewey the winner.
Recognizing that the 2008 election may be a bit too distant for most bettors, many sportsbooks have posted betting lines in this year’s midterm election, Nov. 7.
The most prominent betting line asks bettors to wager whether the Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to wrest control of the 435-seat body from Republicans for the first time since 1994. With an unpopular war in Iraq, low approval numbers for President Bush, and a series of scandals plaguing the Republican Party, most books have the Democrats favored to take over the House.
The Senate, where Democrats need six seats to regain a majority, is another matter. While it’s looking increasingly likely that Democrats will hold all their seats (New Jersey is a problem), as well as pick up seats in Montana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode Island, getting to six will be difficult. There are three (possibly four) more opportunities.
Claire McCaskill (D) is running neck-and-neck with Senator Jim Talent (R) in Missouri, where stem cell research (she supports it, he doesn’t) is a big issue while Harold Ford (D) is trying to prove that an African American can win in Tennessee, where Bob Corker is trying to hold the seat for Republicans.
A series of gaffes have made Senator George Allen (R) vulnerable to the challenge of former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb (D) in Virginia while in Arizona, Jim Pederson (D) is attempting to come from behind to beat Senator John Kyl (R), the author of the recently passed ban on Internet wagering.
Many sportsbooks have a betting line on whether the Democrats will gain control of the Senate (“No” still is favored over “Yes”) while some enterprising wagering outlets have betting lines on many of the individual races. Others still offer index wagering on how many Senate seats the Democrats will gain.
An index wager might look like this:
How many Senate seats will the Democrats gain in the 2006 election?
exactly 5 8/5
6 or more 7/5
In addition to races for the Presidency, the Senate and the House, some sportsbooks also have betting lines on several Governor contests. What it all means is while some citizens will cast their votes at the ballot box, others will express their opinions with cold hard cash.