Thursday, October 16, 2008

Forget the pollsters. Look to the bookies.

Ireland’s largest bookmaker, Paddy Power, on Thursday declared the U.S. presidential race over and paid out bettors banking on a Barack Obama victory.

“We’re certain Senator Obama will become President Obama so we’re paying out over 1,000,000 euro on him to win the election,” it said.

Before the payout, Sen. John McCain’s odds of winning the presidency stood at 5-1, while Mr. Obama was a heavy favorite at 1-9. That means a $10 bet on the long-shot Republican could win $50; a $10 wager on the heavily favored Democrat will pocket just $1.10.

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“Look, if this were a two-horse race, one horse would be so far in front that the horse in second place could hardly see him,” said bookie spokesman Ken Robertson.

The latest European odds on the presidential campaign paint a gloomier picture than American pollsters, and the bookmakers see the chance of a McCain comeback dropping daily.

The odds changed sharply after Sept. 15, when the U.S. financial crisis hit critical mass. Just before the Wall Street meltdown, Mr. McCain was at almost even money, 11-10 odds; Mr. Obama at 4-6 - favored, although not by much. But two weeks later, the Democrat was at 2-7, then this last week, the odds changed daily - 1-4, then 1-5, 1-6 and 1-7 before jumping to 1-9.

Mr. Robertson said he couldn’t get much action either way: Mr. McCain’s odds were too high to draw savvy bettors, while Mr. Obama’s were so low that it wasn’t worth the effort - wagering $90 would bring in just $10.

“We were hardly taking a bet. McCain was friendless - nobody wanted to back McCain,” Mr. Robertson said.

Back in the states - where gambling on elections is barred, even in Las Vegas - pollsters and election analysts are starting to move Mr. McCain toward long-shot status.

“I don’t see how this one can be turned around, frankly,” said presidential historian Stephen Hess.

The one-time Nixon speechwriter, like several other analysts and pollsters, said the Republican’s reaction to the financial crisis may have sealed his fate.

“I thought he was going to come back and denounce the Bush plan and, at the same time, if he had something to say, to propose something that made a lot more sense than the initial proposal,” Mr. Hess said.

Many U.S. polls are trending toward Mr. Obama, who has risen in national and state polls as the economic turmoil has returned the nation’s focus to the policies of the unpopular President Bush.

Mr. McCain has responded this week by calling himself a fighter and separating himself from Mr. Bush.

While a new CBS News/New York Times survey showed a 14-point lead for Mr. Obama, other tracking polls showed the race tightening.

A Zogby daily tracking telephone poll showed a three-day rolling average of 48.2 percent to 44.4 percent - a margin for the Democrat of 3.8 percent, down from 6.2 percentage points a day earlier.

Pollster John Zogby said the race is not over and Mr. McCain can still come back in the final 19 days.

“What he needs to do is drive his numbers up to make this more competitive, and when he drives his numbers up nationally, he goes up in the states, too,” Mr. Zogby said.

The pollster also registered 7.4 percent of voters as “undecided,” and, as in many past elections, they could spell the difference.

“You have enough undecideds here to turn this around and undecideds normally break 2-1, one way or the other,” Mr. Zogby said.

In Ireland, Mr. Robertson said, PaddyPower is now taking bets on “what the winning margin will be for Obama.”

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