Elections feel more and more like sporting events every time they're held. There's more dirty play, more money spent, the officiating gets worse and worse, and there have been more people switching teams, from Republican to Democrat mostly, according to Twitter at least, than ever before. That doesn't make the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections easily understood, however.
Since sports is a language we all understand, I offer this as a means to comprehend the chaos that is contemporary U.S. politics by looking at the races like they're actual races, or any sporting event for that matter. This piece aims to inform you of the facts and stakes surrounding the biggest and closest races of the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections by comparing them to historic sporting events or sports rivalries.
The piece also offers some politics betting advice you can take or leave, but I assure you, politics betting is even more fun and addictive than sports betting. If you're disinterested in politics, politics betting makes politics suddenly interesting. I should warn you, however, that I and just about everyone else in America lost big time in 2016—in more than one way. This election we’ll start winning it back together. (Author's note: any winnings are reinvested into candidates’ campaigns the following election cycle.)
It might not be a perfect comparison to 1908's “Fight of the Century” between the first ever black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, and Tommy Burns, but Democrat Stacey Abrams is trying to be to the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections what Jack Johnson was to boxing.
Abrams is running to become the country’s first ever black female elected governor of any state. Abrams’ opponent, Brian Kemp, is doing his damnedest as Georgia’s acting Secretary of State to make sure she doesn’t. It would be like Johnson’s fight against Burns, but if Burns had served as referee of the fight as well. Abrams isn’t likely to do a year in prison for dating a white woman like Johnson did, though.
A federal judge has already ruled against Kemp, who was using an “exact match” law to keep over 3,000 people—mostly minorities—from voting for things like misspellings and missing hyphens on their voter registration applications. But over 50,000 voters in Georgia have been flagged as ineligible because of the law, and despite that, Abrams trails in the polls by just one point, according to Real Clear Politics’ (RCP) average. She’s gotten the Oprah boost recently, too, so expect this one to come down to the wire.
I have $10 on Abrams to win on Predict It, an online marketplace for politics betting, basically. The difference being you can buy and sell shares right up until the election is called, so if Abrams holds a lead at some point on Election Day, I can sell my shares for her to win at a profit in case the late rounds go to Kemp. I won’t, however.
The basketball battle for the State of California between LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers and the reigning, back-to-back-champion Golden State Warriors is not unlike the battle for the Texas Senate seat. Ted Cruz is the reigning, Republican champion running for a second term, and Beto O’Rourke brings all the glitz and glam LeBron brought with him to the Lakers. O’Rourke doubled Cruz’s campaign contributions in the second quarter of 2018, raising more than $10.4 million despite taking no money from Political Action Committees (PACs). His ability to raise money has this shaping up to be the most expensive U.S. Senate race of all time.
Like the Lakers, O’Rourke will have to spend to contend. According to the latest Emerson poll, he trails Cruz by three points, but the RCP average has him even further behind in a state that hasn’t had a Democratic Senator since 1993. I have $5 on O’Rourke scoring an upset, but I’m really just hoping early tallies of metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth have O’Rourke far enough ahead early to sell at halftime before Cruz goes on a run, hitting shots from rural Texas in the third quarter like the Warriors do against seemingly everybody.
While Miamians will vote on a proposal for the purchase of real estate to house a billion-dollar Major League Soccer (MLS) complex, they'll also be voting to potentially restore the voting rights of more than 1.5 million former felons in the state (10 percent of all voters in the state). Florida is one of just three states (Iowa and Kentucky being the others) to automatically bar anyone convicted of a felony from voting. A grassroots campaign run by former felons is looking to change that, but needs 60 percent of Florida voters to vote "yes" on Amendment Four in order for it to pass.
Amendment Four would "automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation." And while Florida's ex-cons have an avenue to regaining their voting rights, it's a long street with obstacles abound like the last level of the arcade game, Paperboy, but with an old, pasty boss withholding payment until you get off the bike, walk up to the house, ring the doorbell, and place his newspaper ever so gently in his right hand before kissing the rings on his left.
Ari Berman explains in an article for Mother Jones that Florida felons can get their voting rights back but have to wait five to seven years to petition a Clemency Board headed by current governor, Rick Scott, who has denied 90 percent of applications—giving just 3,000 Florida felons the right to vote. Scott's predecessor, Charlie Crist, who left the Republicans for the Democrats in free agency, approved 155,000 applications. Even Republican Jeb Bush approved 75,000, and he's still on Scott's team. And that team is hard on crime because it's an easy stance to take and it pays well.
Florida's Rick Scott has received the most contributions from the private prison industry in 2018 ($70,600), and fellow Floridian Rebecca Negron is second ($29,850). Two other Florida Republican candidates make the top 20, accepting $10,000 each to funnel both prisoners and tax dollars to for-profit prisons. Texas "entrepreneurs" were turning old motels into migrant detention centers until they found out they could get away with putting up a few tents instead. Four Republicans and one Democrat from Texas also made the list.
These private prisons are literally banking on recidivism; they want prisoners to keep coming back. To them, convicts are cash cows; they're valued. But to the rest of the world, convicts are always convicts, regardless of rehabilitation. Convicts can find God but not a job. In Florida, they can get a law degree but not practice law. And in Florida, they can indulge in every pleasure imaginable except the pleasure that comes from voting. The second chance ex-cons are afforded, especially in Florida, comes with strings attached, takes five to seven years to earn, and doesn't have to be granted, and likely won't, even if the convict does everything asked of her. That doesn't mean they can't participate in democracy, though.
Even though a million-plus Florida ex-cons can't vote in the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, you can bet they're knocking doors and phone banking to get Democrats to the polls on Election Day so they can vote someday soon. Felons currently incarcerated in Florida jails and prisons are probably calling home to make sure their friends and family vote in this election so they too can vote someday. Left-leaning voters with friends and family convicted of felonies won't be sitting at home on Election Day, and that bodes well for Democratic candidates. Both Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum were leading in the RCP average polls on the eve of the elections.
The roughly 113,000 Florida votes that separated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (1.2 percent) will surely narrow, because this grassroots movement of former felons has given Florida Democrats an inside track to victory through an issue that has further motivated an already motivated base. Major League Soccer's (MLS) success in Atlanta is indicative of what can be done when you offer people something of which they've been deprived.
Both Minnesota and Atlanta got MLS expansion franchises in 2017. Minneapolis and Atlanta share similar age demographics that make them ideal soccer cities. Residents aged 20 to 30 years make up the largest segment of their populations. Atlanta is obviously more diverse, but that doesn't explain why Atlanta United leads not only MLS, but the NFL, MLB, and NHL in attendance, averaging 46,318 tickets sold per game in its inaugural season. Minnesota United managed just over 20,000 per game in its inaugural season, in a stadium with more than 50,000 seats, which the Loons filled just once and marketed hard to do so.
Atlanta United set new attendance (and points) records in 2018, averaging over 53,000 fans per game. What gives? The Five Stripes were surprisingly good surprisingly fast, but they weren't the Vegas Golden Knights of MLS. The Five Stripes lost in the first round of the playoffs despite finishing the regular season fourth overall. The key to Atlanta's stunning MLS success isn't strictly due to the product's performance on the pitch. It's influenced by the availability of excess income and a lack of quality, sports/entertainment substitutes in the area demanding those dollars.
Atlanta is a business hub home to Home Depot, Coca-Cola, UPS, and Delta Air Lines, so while Atlanta has more impoverished individuals and families than both Minneapolis and St. Paul, a lot of Atlantans have a lot of money. There are more families in Atlanta earning more than $200,000 annually than in any other income level. More than a quarter of married families in Atlanta make more than $200,000 annually. Minneapolis and St. Paul combined have just 23.5 percent of married families making more than $200,000 annually. But what sporting events would Atlantans pay to see in 2017?
The MLB's Braves might have moved into a new, publicly funded stadium in 2017, but they weren't especially good (and neither was traffic or parking), finishing 72-90, 23rd in the standings and 13th in attendance. The Braves turned that record around and won their division in 2018, but still finished 11th in attendance. For reference, in 2011, the Minnesota Twins finished their second season at Target Field with a 63-99 record and managed to finish fourth in attendance. MLB as a whole saw average attendance drop to a 15-year low in 2018, but whether the Braves' struggle to fill seats is due to traffic, parking, the ire of taxpayers, or an overall disinterest in the game doesn't change the fact that their product fails to demand the entertainment dollars of affluent Atlantans.
The NBA's Hawks were even worse than the Braves in 2017-18. After losing out in the first round of the 2016-17 NBA Playoffs, they finished the following season tied for the third-worst record in basketball, ending a run of regular-season dominance culminating in early postseason exits. The Hawks are hoping a renovation of State Farm Arena, complete with golf simulator suites and an authentic, Atlanta barbershop, demand the dollars their product currently cannot.
The Hawks do, however, offer a relatively affordable and valuable season ticket package, which is another means to make a poor product more appealing. Price matters and must reflect not just the product's quality, but how accessibility affects demand for the product. Transportation and parking expenses must be considered when setting a price, and the Hawks have years of experience at their location to more accurately estimate those costs than the Braves did.
Still, the Hawks were dead last in attendance in 2017-18, managing to fill just 14,409 of their 21,000 seats per game (68.6 percent of capacity). Atlanta United originally intended to close the upper bowl of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to create a more intimate atmosphere, lowering capacity from 70,000 to 42,500. That's 109 percent of seats sold in year one, or 66.2 percent if you use the 70,000 figure. In year two, they bested the Hawks' seat-sold percentage by almost 10 percent using considering a capacity of 70,000.
With the NHL's Thrashers becoming the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, Atlanta's affluent population has been deprived of quality, sports entertainment since the Hawks' window of contention closed in early 2017. The wallets of affluent Atlantans were practically begging for a worthwhile entertainment alternative just as Florida ex-cons are actually pleading for an alternative to Rick Scott's Clemency Board when it comes to regaining their right to vote.
Florida Democrats could replicate The Five Stripes' stunning MLS success by simply expressing their support for legislation offering disenfranchised people an alternative to Scott's Clemency Hawks subjectively dictating the voting rights of Florida's former felons with no oversight whatsoever. But something tends to be better than nothing, and nothing is very close to what Rick Scott is offering Florida's 1.5 million former felons right now. Expect a blue wave in Florida across the board.
Heidi Heitkamp has a better chance to retain her North Dakota Senate seat (11/2, according to the Predict It market) than Conor McGregor had to beat Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match (11/1). But McGregor was incredibly overrated and idiotically over-wagered. Despite a marijuana legalization initiative appearing on North Dakotans’ ballot on Election Day, Heitkamp trails Republican challenger Kevin Cramer by nine points in the latest Fox News poll. With cannabis becoming more of a bipartisan issue, the initiative might bring close as many Republicans to the polls as Democrats, so it looks as though Heitkamp’s short reign as North Dakota’s Senator could be coming to an end.
Heitkamp’s stance against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment apparently hurt her chances, but she’s not stepping into a boxing ring with an undefeated, world champion having never boxed before. She has boxed, and Kevin Cramer is no Floyd Mayweather, except that he did say even if Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is telling the truth, the recently confirmed Supreme Court Judge would have done “nothing” seriously wrong. Mayweather, you might remember, served two months in jail after being convicted of domestic battery. A 17-year-old Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a woman when he was drunk, allegedly.
I have $5 on Heitkamp overcoming the long odds because she will no doubt attract the most money from Democratic donors down the stretch, as they desperately try to become the majority in the Senate. As her deficit in the polls narrows, I’ll start shedding my 15-cent shares at a profit if I can. And even if Democrats see Heitkamp as a lost cause in the late rounds, the votes in Fargo and Bismarck-Mandan areas will undoubtedly be reported first, so she’ll look close enough early on to hopefully make some money on my shares. If not, a candidate is out $5 in the next election cycle. I don't think anyone will notice.
Democrats in Wisconsin probably feel like New York Islanders fans between 1996 and 2001: like there was just no chance of winning. With their arena crumbling around them, the New York Islanders were so undesirable to potential buyers, a fraud named John Spano misrepresented his net worth and took over the team for four months. It took another half decade for the Islanders franchise to be saved by Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar, but even then, fans questioned moves made by the new front office, only to enjoy a franchise best start to the 2001-02 season (9-0-1-1) and a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
It’s been seven years since Wisconsin had a Democratic governor, and it might be time Democrats get their Islanders Season in the Sun. The Democrats already received their John Spano gut punch with a failed attempt in 2012 to recall Governor Scott Walker for limiting public workers’ rights to collectively bargain. They and Wisconsinites, like Islanders fans, suffered since, and seem to have suffered enough given Democratic challenger Tony Evers’ five-point lead in the latest Emerson poll. He’s the guy with experience as a teacher and principal whose education budget recommendations Walker was ignoring while Governor. Wisconsinites seem to think he has the experience to right Walker’s biggest wrongs.
It’s no secret Walker has undermined labor unions in Wisconsin, especially teachers’ unions, but Walker’s really failed Wisconsin’s youth when it comes to education, as Patrick Caldwell writes in Mother Jones. “Walker slashed funding for K-12 schools by $792 million over two years,” forcing local property tax hikes. It’s never a good look when a candidate preaching tax cuts is responsible for tax increases.
Desperation is a stinky cologne, and that’s exactly what Scott Walker is emitting. He suddenly wants to adopt a portion of Obamacare, protecting coverage guarantees for people suffering from pre-existing conditions. He’s hoping it will save his political life like a full Medicare expansion could have literally save the lives of his constituents. It won’t be enough, though. Walker’s just done Wisconsin wrong too many times—just like Islanders owners done Islanders fans.
Greg Gianforte managed to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives despite body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs when he asked the candidate a question the day before the election. Gianforte's win might be due to the postponed release of his mugshot to the public and press despite being formally charged and arrested for assault. A court eventually ordered Gianforte’s mugshot released, but not before the election was held.
The mugshot might not have mattered, though. Gianforte reportedly raised more money the day after his assault of a reporter than on any other day. Now he’s a California-born, New Jersey-raised, Trump-loved Brock Lesnar defending his championship belt in Montana against a tiny, minority-defending female version of Eddie Guerrero.
Kathleen Williams’ strong candidacy, likely the strongest Montana Democrats have ever run, might not matter either. Gianforte’s folk-hero status with Conservative Montanans could be insurmountable, but she’s made the race close for the first time in a long time. Montana is deeply red when it comes to the House of Representatives, especially recently. A Republican has represented Montana in the U.S. House for over 20 years. The latest Gravis poll has Montana’s At-Large Seat all tied up though. If Williams gets a surprise spear from Goldberg (i.e. Oprah), she can win just like Guerrero did.
As you can see, I have no money down on Republicans in any races, but I did turnaround some shares I purchased for Republicans to retain the Senate. I also had shares of Democrats taking a majority in the House (they need to win 23 seats, and 25 Republicans are up for reelection in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016). Both races were too close for my comfort, so I concentrated my funds on individual races I was most confident would either go Democrat or start to lean Democrat so I could sell my shares at a profit.
Basically, I made modest bets on longshots or long bets on what I perceive to be sure things. Use RCP and New York Times polling to guide your bets, and then, on Election Day, vote if you’re a registered voter, register to vote if you're not and you still can in your state, and then treat it like the holiday it ought to be. Watch Election coverage like it's Thanksgiving football. Turn it into a drinking game. Eat like an American, and win and lose your bets like an American—"cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat."