Foon Rhee

Clinton is the safe bet, in more ways than one

Clinton supporter Lady Guy, left, and Trump supporter Janusz Biskupek are in the crowd outside a Clinton rally in Wilton Manors, Fla., on Sunday.
Clinton supporter Lady Guy, left, and Trump supporter Janusz Biskupek are in the crowd outside a Clinton rally in Wilton Manors, Fla., on Sunday. The Miami Herald

As we get mercifully closer and closer to Election Day, you can check daily tracking polls on the presidential race, which were already tightening even before the shocker that the FBI is looking into the Hillary Clinton email case again. As of Monday afternoon, she led Donald Trump 45.6 percent to 42.4 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, and her lead is also shrinking in battleground states.

Political junkies also closely follow forecasts based on electoral history and mathematical models. One of the best known, Nate Silver’s at FiveThirtyEight.com, put Clinton’s chances at winning at 75 percent on Monday, down from 85 percent last week but up from 55 percent just before the first debate Sept. 26.

But in this nasty, topsy-turvy 2016 presidential election, the only numbers that really matter are the actual votes counted on Nov. 8.

You can even bet on the results, if you’re willing to skirt the law and risk an October surprise. Big breaking news – like FBI Director James Comey’s letter Friday that his agency is looking at more emails that might be pertinent to its investigation of Clinton’s private email server – can drastically move the odds.

At Bovada – a betting company based in the Caribbean and a favorite for political gamblers – Clinton was a clear favorite on Oct. 25, given an 85 percent chance of winning. After the FBI news, her chances dropped to 75 percent.

I’m not encouraging people to risk their hard-earned money, mind you. While the final debate was held in Las Vegas, federal law prohibits U.S. casinos from taking bets on elections.

But online sites run by offshore companies are happy to take your cash. As of last week, more than $90 million had been wagered on the presidential race with Betfair, a prominent British firm that still gives Clinton a 76 percent chance of winning.

You can wager on the winner in specific states, on voter turnout, electoral votes won by Clinton and Trump, the popular vote winner and percentage. There are also more exotic wagers, including:

▪ Trump is shut out and doesn’t win a single state – 100-to-1 on Paddy Power, a bookmaker that operates in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

▪ The winner of the popular vote doesn’t win the presidency, as happened in 2000, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore (7-to-1 odds).

▪ Trump forms a new political party before the end of the year (12-to-1).

▪ Someone other than Clinton or Trump wins a state. Independent Evan McMullin appears to have the best shot, in Utah. If he pulls it off, he would be the first non-major-party candidate to win a state since segregationist George Wallace won five Southern states and 46 electoral votes in 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected.

It’s still unlikely, but who would have bet that Utah – if Trump doesn’t win the reliably Republican state and its six electoral votes – could prove so crucial?

Speaking of long shots, who would have wagered that after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the 2000 race for Bush over Gore, the director of the FBI, however unintentionally, might determine the winner in 2016?

And what were the odds that the Clinton email scandal would be resurrected by disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s creepy sexting? Unfortunately, voters may not know much more about this latest batch of emails before Nov. 8.

Neither will gamblers. Until it was taken off the Paddy Power board over the weekend, you could bet on Clinton winning, but then being impeached and resigning during her first term (7-1 odds, and 14-1 before the FBI news).

While Clinton appears to still have the inside track to the White House, bookmakers can be just as wrong as pollsters. Just before Britain voted in June to exit the European Union, the odds and polls were stacked in the other direction. On the stump, Trump is vowing to pull off “Brexit times five” with a “big, beautiful victory.”

And who knows what else could blow up the odds and shake up the campaign in its final week?

Could WikiLeaks drop another big bombshell? It has been releasing hacked emails from inside the Clinton campaign almost daily, and its founder, Julian Assange, has long had it in for Clinton. You have to wonder what Assange, holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, might still have up his sleeve, or on his servers. You don’t suppose he’s betting on the election?

I, for one, won’t be placing any bets – and not just because I don’t want to risk breaking the law. It’s for the same reason I don’t fill out March Madness brackets – I care too much about who wins.

I’m superstitious that way, so I don’t want to do anything that might possibly help Trump.

My colleagues and I were one of the first editorial boards in the nation to warn that Trump is a demagogue and danger to democracy, all the way back in December. Ever since, he has proven us right almost every day with his reckless and ridiculous statements.

There’s too much at stake to gamble on Trump. For all her faults – including her email stupidity and the uncertainty of the FBI probe – Clinton is still the much safer bet.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee

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