Unless an Ebola-fueled zombie apocalypse devastates the world between now and next Tuesday, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is going to win the Democratic nomination in Florida’s governor’s race. Not one credible political prognosticator thinks otherwise. So one thing to look for on Tuesday night is not whether Crist wins or loses — duh — but what is his margin of victory?
In Las Vegas, there are plenty of smart guys who can tell you who is going to win a football game. The challenge comes in beating the spread — the allotted points the favorite has to overcome to win money for their backers who have money pending on the scoring outcome of the game. For example, in the opening game of the college football season, Florida State is favored by 17.5 points over Oklahoma State. Betters can gamble on either side of that equation, on the “chalk,” meaning they believe FSU will beat OSU by more than 17.5 points, or with the underdog, meaning they think OSU will either beat FSU outright or lose to the ‘Noles by less than 17.5 points.
However, before someone can bet one way or another versus the spread, the line must be set. The really smart guys in Vegas have to crunch whatever numbers they think are important and set a line. Not a line about who might win or lose, but a line that will have an equal number of betters on both sides of it.
In an ideal situation for the house, there is an equal amount of money on both sides of the line, i.e. a million dollars in bets have been made on Florida State to cover the spread and a million dollars have been wagered that Oklahoma State will beat the spread. The house does not make money on winners or losers, rather by charging a 10 percent vigorish on losing bets.
This is why it’s so important for the house to set a perfect line.
So what should the line be in Charlie Crist vs. Nan Rich? Like the FSU vs. OSU game, it’s not a matter of who is likely to win. The question is: By how much?
A good night for any candidate is one that ends with him or her receiving 60 percent of the vote. That means three out of five people voted for them. That’s a healthy, more-than-respectable win.
If Crist, who has been a Democrat about as long as Jameis Winston has been a college football player, were to win his party’s nomination with 60 percent of the vote, he’d be happy, but not ecstatic.
Twenty points is also not a good line to set. Most people believe Crist will defeat Rich by more than that, so the betting would be imbalanced.
The trouble is, once you start pegging a candidate at 65-66 percent — two thirds of the vote — you have to believe that two out of every three votes will go their way. Will two out of every three Democratic primary voters back Crist? Most of the very little public polling suggests they will. According to a July poll from Gravis Marketing, Crist took 68 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, while Rich was far behind with 20 percent. Twelve percent remain undecided.
Were Crist to keep Rich well below 40 percent, that would keep the Monday morning quarterbacks from squawking too much about the lack of enthusiasm among Democrats for Charlie.
Still, I don’t believe 65-66 percent is where I’d set the line in Crist vs. Rich. I think too much of the money would still come in for Crist to beat a 30-point spread.
No, to me, the perfect spread in the Democratic primary in which there are just two candidates on the ballot (meaning none of the votes, even if it’s just 1 or 2 percent, will go to some unknown candidate) is Crist +39.5. Were I running a sports book (not that I ever did such a thing), the line I believe would put an equal volume of action on both sides is whether Crist will reach 70 percent. If he gets to 70 percent, that means Rich only took 30 percent and Crist will have covered the spread. But it’s difficult for any candidate running against a credible opponent to take 70 percent of the vote. Rick Scott will easily win his primary with more than 70 percent of the vote because he’s running against a bunch of tomato cans. But Crist is running against a respected former legislative leader.
If Crist were to reach 70 percent next Tuesday, that would represent a very strong showing for him and would give him a nice boost heading into the general election.
But beating a spread of 39.5 points, whether in football or in politics, requires a near-perfect game-time performance. Does Crist, the former walk-on college quarterback, have that kind of game in him?
That’s the excitement of gambling: You can put your money where your mouth is. Which way would you bet, for Crist to win by more than 39.5 and cover the spread I’ve set? Or is Nan Rich and the points a better bet?