Democratic primary season continues to plod along, and the Democratic National Committee (with help from the broadcast networks) is doing its part to whittle the historically-large field down to a more palatable size. Tonight, ten Democrats will participate in the ABC News debate, down from 26 candidates who entered the primary with Oval Office ambitions.
However, unbeknownst to most voters, there’s a 27th candidate lurking in the wings. And despite not qualifying for the September 12 debate - or even declaring her intention to run for president - her stock is rising.
That candidate is Hillary Clinton.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Clinton had bowed out of formal Democratic politics.
Beyond suffering a stunning defeat in the 2016 election at the hands of Donald Trump - the most hated presidential candidate in US history - her political agenda is now woefully out of touch with the Trump-era Democratic voting bloc.
Clinton’s 2016 policy platform, attacked as alarmingly radical by the Republicans, would place her toward the far right edge of the 2020 Democratic field. A staunch defender of her husband during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, she also carries significant baggage in the post-#MeToo Democratic party.
Consequently, hardly anyone was surprised when in March, she confirmed that she would trade the White House Rose Garden for a lifetime of walks in the woods. “I’m not running,” she said, seemingly putting speculation about her 2020 ambitions to rest.
Just last week, NBC News reported that Clinton has quietly been providing support to Elizabeth Warren as she seeks to consolidate support from the party’s ascendant progressive wing and upset odds-on favorite Joe Biden. That doesn’t sound like the strategy of a politician preparing to launch her own campaign.
However, not everyone is convinced that Hillary Clinton will avoid the temptation to make one last run for president. And skeptics are putting their money where their mouths are.
According to data from PredictIt, “the stock market for politics,” there’s an outside chance that Clinton runs for president, and that percentage is trending up.
A CFTC-exempt research project sponsored by Victoria University of Wellington, PredictIt allows news junkies to bet real money on a variety of political outcomes.
Bettors buy or sell “stock” in a hypothetical outcome, such as this one, which asks: “Will Hillary Clinton run for president in 2020?” Share prices range from 1 cent to 99 cents based on supply and demand, and winning bets pay out at $1.00.
Shares in this particular market, which simply asks whether Clinton will run for president, currently trade at 11 cents. That implies slightly worse than 10/1 odds that she will file campaign documents with the Federal Election Commission.
Notably, the implied probability of a Clinton presidential campaign has climbed by around 20% since mid-August when shares ranged around 9 cents.
However, the real surprise is found in PredictIt’s general 2020 Democratic primary market, which places Clinton in the upper half of the field - despite the fact that she has done nothing to suggest that she will even run for president.
Clinton shares traded as high as 5 cents (25/1 odds) on Thursday, though they slid back to 4 cents (25/1 odds) as I was writing this article.
Sure, those odds imply an extremely narrow chance that she will emerge victorious from the Democratic primary, but the market reveals something far more remarkable: PredictIt users are more bullish on Clinton than four candidates who will appear in tonight’s debate!
At present, Clinton shares cost more than Cory Booker (3 cents), Beto O’Rourke (2 cents), Julian Castro (2 cents), or Amy Klobuchar (1 cent), all of whom cleared the minimum threshold of 130,000 unique donors and 2% support in at least four eligible polls.
That’s 40% of the Democratic field’s upper tier, and if Buttigieg (8 cents) underperforms at the debate, it’s possible she could challenge “Mayor Pete” as well.
Of course, there's no indication that Clinton has the slightest intention to hop into the Democratic primary, and maybe PredictIt's userbase has ulterior motives. (Picture Bernie Sanders fanatics hedging against Clinton "stealing" the Democratic nomination (again) by positioning themselves to profit from their own disenchantment with the US political system.)
But then again, perhaps the market is sending a message that with Sanders and Warren splitting the hardline progressive vote, Biden's poor primary track record, and a historically-unpopular president in the White House, the stars are aligning for one final Clinton run.
After all, the third time's the charm. Right?