US Politics

US Election: If not Joe Biden who will be the Democrat Nominee?

U.S. President Joe Biden
Joe Biden's re-electability looks increasingly doubtful

Lingering doubts about Joe Biden's cognitive wellbeing have spooked Betfair's election markets. Paul Krishnamurty analyses who might replace Biden, were he to withdraw or be forced out...

  • Hur Report a massive blow to Biden

  • Bettors losing faith

  • Harris by far the best placed alternative

The betting marathon that is any US Presidential Election involves moments of unexpected drama which spike betting activity and transform the odds. Think Trump getting impeached or contracting Covid. Clinton collapsing in the heat or the email scandal blowing up when least expected.

Markets frenzied by Hur Report

The first such moment of this cycle came last Thursday, when Special Counsel Robert Hur effectively labelling Joe Biden to be in such cognitive decline that he couldn't be expected to stand trial for mishandling classified documents. A disaster compounded instantly by his confusing the presidents of Egypt and Mexico - in a press conference intended to demonstrate Biden was fine, on top of the job.

The market reaction was instant, with Biden drifting markedly in both of Election Winner and Democratic Nominee markets, from around 3.02/1 to 4.03/1 and 1.251/4 to 1.51/2 in the latter. That equates to his chance of success falling from 33% to 25%, and 80% to 67% respectively. A sharp fall, but the rot soon stopped and Biden's chance is creeping up again in both markets. At 1.454/9 and 3.55, his respective odds can hardly be described as dismissive.

No indication of a serious primary challenge

So, where are we? Democrats may well be worried about their candidate but there is no easy path to dumping Biden. No credible challenger is going to try out the assassin role, by entering the remaining primaries. It seems highly unlikely that any will even speak out before Biden is nominated at the August convention.

Do not overestimate the Democratic Party's desire or ability for regicide. The two main US parties are very different. Republicans love nothing more than an outsider, or a hostile primary, and duly blew up their own party with Trump. Democrats are deferential to seniority and the party pecking order.

Hence how Clinton could ease to the nomination, despite being under federal investigation. How Biden could come out of retirement, barely campaign yet win easily. How Nancy Pelosi was House Speaker into her eighties.

Which frankly, in this scenario, leaves them stuck. By the time of the convention, Biden will be six months older. Every day, millions of voters will have been bombarded with memes, whether real, edited or faked, showing the President all at sea. There will likely be an effect in the polls - which are already deeply worrying. Whether they act or not, senior Democrats must be having this conversation.

Honorable retirement remains possible

I stand by these words from before Christmas that a late Biden retirement is plausible. Some politicians are so consumed by power, or themselves, that they would never give up.

I don't regard Biden that way and cite 2016 as evidence. He was urged to challenge Clinton, told he was more electable and had big donors, an ad campaign at the ready. Instead, he retired. Then, according to him, the threat of Donald Trump and resurgent white supremacists at Charlottesville, dragged him out of retirement.

There is a retirement speech that would recognize his achievements, his career, his record in office, be well-received by a majority of Americans and help the Democrats moving forward. It could happen at any moment. If his wife Jill insisted, perhaps. So while one might like the current Biden odds to hold on to, beware that your position could be over at a moment's notice.

How to price the nomination market

If it happens, those markets will go wild. Here's my advice in how to approach the chaos.

First, we already have a price on Biden for nominee - roughly 1-2. For anyone else to be the nominee, a 2-1 chance must land. So for any alternative, divide their current odds by three and that is the price in the new 'Without Biden' market. For example Kamala Harris would be 5.59/2, one third of today's 16.5. Elizabeth Warren would be 22.021/1, one third of 65.064/1.

I mention that pair as both strike me as wildly overpriced. There are a few Governors with potential but, no matter how good Gretchen Whitmer or Andy Beshear look for 2028, few have heard of them outside their states. It would be too late to instantly make enough of an impression to be awarded the nomination at the convention. Only a few very senior Democrats are in contention.

The market rates Michelle Obama likeliest, but I must reiterate what a bad bet this is. She has never made any indication of running for office. This is speculation from Republicans and click-hungry media with a long history of sparking bad gambles. To get it, she would need not only go back on strong commitments but usurp the senior politicians close to power. Particularly the first black, female vice-president.

Harris remains under-rated

Think of that narrative, and more generally among Democrats. Their candidate will be emphasizing the achievements of the Biden administration. Strong economic numbers. The most legislatively successful administration in decades. For all of which, Kamala Harris was in very close proximity. I don't see how, or why, rivals would criticise her or differentiate themselves.

The other leading contender is her old ally in California, Gavin Newsom. He's only just behind Obama, and that odds calculation implies he'd be around 3.711/4 in the new race.

Those odds are too short for me but I would differentiate Newsom from those other Governors. He's played a blinder this past year at raising his national profile, while remaining a solid Biden defender. Consequently, he's in the conversation.

Beyond that, think Senators or former candidates. Warren 65.064/1, Amy Klobuchar 410.0409/1, Pete Buttigieg 540.0539/1. Hillary Clinton 120.0119/1 might enter calculations (and is always ripe for one of those conspiracy-led gambles).

But for me, Harris is the obvious value. In the secondary race without Biden, I wouldn't lay 2.56/4 about her. That would make correct odds now to be 7.613/2, rather than 16.5. I put Harris up a fortnight ago at 85.084/1 as one of three outsiders, now into 32.031/1. I have no intention of laying any back above 15.014/1.

Now Read US Election 2024: Should Donald Trump be the US Election favourite?

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


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Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.