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Election bets reveal public thinking regarding presidential race, politics

In years gone by, when reporters kept pints of whiskey in their bottom desk drawers and editors wielded long pencils sharpened to resemble hypodermic needles, it was common in newsrooms to bet on elections.

Truth be told, it was common in newsrooms to bet on almost anything, from how much snow would fall in a storm to when the jury in a murder case would come back. But elections were often the top source for wagering, better even than football because, unlike sports, the ability to guess who would win elections was rarely tied to one’s knowledge of politics.

Sometimes a new colleague – usually fresh out of journalism school where they fill would-be reporters’ malleable minds with extraneous things like civic duty and ethics – would recoil in horror at something so crass as betting on elections. My standard reply was that if the public could bet on elections, they’d pay far more attention and maybe more would actually cast ballots in hopes of affecting the outcome in their favor. So make your picks, I’d say, and cough up your buck.

The latest advances in online wagering make those old election pools look like a rotary dial phone next to an iPhone 6s. One website, PredictIt, provides opportunities for a person to bet on which Republican will be the next to drop out of the presidential race, whether Vice President Joe Biden will get in, who will get the biggest bump in the polls from Wednesday’s debate, whether Congress’ approval rating will top 15 percent by Friday or even whether sanctuary cities will lose federal funding.

In a sense, the betting odds represent the “conventional wisdom” better than the usual experts who are tapped to provide sage comments on all-day news channels. Biden entering the presidential race was going off at 60-40 late last week. Carly Fiorina was seen as more likely than Donald Trump to win the Iowa caucuses, not so much because she had more support post-debate but because he had less.

This may sound like it’s coming from the same devious minds turning fantasy football into a daily gambling enterprise and buying up tons of television commercials to convince thousands of suckers they could become a millionaire with the right picks. (Before you get too judgmental, let’s acknowledge the state does the exact same thing with the lottery.)

PredictIt, however, was conceived by folks at the University of Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand, as a research project for prediction markets, which are sometimes more accurate than polling in forecasting the outcome of certain events.

Which is an even better excuse for betting on elections than anyone in any newsroom ever came up with. It’s research. Honest.

In and out for 2016

Although candidates for the 2015 election may be shoulder-to-the-wheel, nose-to-the-grindstone right now, the 2016 crop of candidates isn’t far behind.

On Friday, state Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Seattle, launched a campaign for lieutenant governor next year. His news release announced he was doing this with the support of several legislative colleagues and he hoped to “elevate the office as an advocate for kids, colleges and global partnerships.”

Folks running for lieutenant governor often have lofty goals for the office, but one of the main tasks of the No. 2 state executive is presiding over the Senate, which involves calling on members to speak as they stand to offer wisdom on pieces of legislation. On this, Habib is an interesting candidate, because he has been blind since age 8 from a rare form of cancer.

That wouldn’t disqualify him from holding the job, said Brad Owen, the five-term incumbent and current occupant. Lieutenant governors have advisers and staff on the dais, and Habib could have an aide there as a spotter.

But Owen hasn’t decided that he’s not running for re-election. In fact, he filed his notice of candidacy with the Public Disclosure Commission on Thursday.

“We’re just keeping our options open until my wife and I have time to decide,” he said. Habib getting into the race would be “totally irrelevant to my decision,” he added.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, has said he will not run for governor. Hill is the Senate Republicans’ chief budget maven as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. That’s a powerful position, but not usually a steppingstone to higher elective office, as predecessors including Dino Rossi could attest.

That keeps Seattle Port District Commissioner Bill Bryant as the leading Republican to take on Democratic incumbent Jay Inslee.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has also filed for re-election to what would be his fifth term.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/spincontrol.
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