The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will be the next president of the United States?

Al Gore evens
George Bush Jr 13-8
John McCain 100-30
Bill Bradley 9-1

(source William Hill)

Following the Iowa primary, I expressed surprise that George Bush Jr was still favourite to become the next American president. He isn't now. The new odds that have Al Gore as even-money favourite, in from 11-8, have nothing to do with Gore, who continues to act like a Thunderbird puppet. The movement in the market is entirely down to one person: John McCain. This is the man who didn't even bother to stand in Iowa but has seen his odds slashed from 9-1 to 100-30.

McCain is the sort of candidate that the professional politician hates because he pretends not to be a politician at all. He is a bit of a "character" and the voters love it. It's a bit like why the British public likes Clare Short, Ann Widdecombe and Mo Mowlam. His battle bus is called "The Straight Talk Express" and the voters like what he talks about - and it's not all about tax cuts either. Bush feels so threatened by McCain that he has cancelled his trips to Arizona and California in order to concentrate on the next battle in South Carolina. And he plans to spend nearly £2 million on TV advertising in South Carolina alone.

With the polls in South Carolina showing the two men running neck and neck, the dirty-tricks brigade is out in force. Bush's people are "push polling" - voters are telephoned by a fake polling company which asks loaded questions designed to smear the opposition. Watch out for this over here soon. Bush must win in South Carolina; otherwise, by the time he gets to "Super Tuesday" in early March, McCain may be unstoppable. But at 100-30 he's probably not worth a punt. My money is still on Gore, but then again I got better odds than evens.

This article first appeared in the 21 February 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Just wait for the gold rush to end