The Washington Post

Yes, Huntsman is the strongest candidate against Obama

Who will win next year’s presidential race? Well, the results are in from the best forecaster of the 2008 election. Headline: Huntsman is the strongest possible candidate against President Obama. Subhead: Both Romney and Huntsman win under the most likely economic scenarios.

These results are from electoral swami Nate Silver, who predicted accurately 49 of 50 state outcomes in the last presidential election. As you might imagine — or already know if you are into fantasy baseball — Silver is a serious statistician. After a brief stint at KPMG, Silver became a writer for Baseball Prospectus, where he introduced his system for forecasting Major League Baseball player performance (PECOTA).

Silver and his pals have built a fun interactive game where you can see how the odds change on the presidential race based on certain drivers they have identified as statistically significant to the outcome: economic growth, Obama’s approval rating, and the ideological cast of the Republican opponent. 

I decided to play the game and armed with yesterday’s Fed revised growth targets. I entered two scenarios: The Fed’s lower growth scenario of 2.5 percent and the higher one of 2.9 percent. I kept Obama’s favorable rating at today’s average of about 43percent. Interestingly, you are not able to dial up or down Silver’s input on Republican ideology. Basically, as I understand it, the more of a wingnut you are, the worse your chances in the general election. This input, which I would think is somewhat subjective, favors Huntsman and Romney but marginalizes the more conservative Cain, Perry and Bachman. (Newt didn’t make the cut.)

Under both “growth” scenarios, Huntsman and Romney win. In the first, Huntsman has a 71 percent chance of winning; Romney 67 percent. In the second and higher growth scenario, Huntsman has a 58 percent change of winning; Romney 53 percent.

Silver knows that these predictions are early and subject to other forces, such as scandal, mistakes, etc. In other words, just like baseball, we have to play the real game, not just the fantasy one.

But Silver’s statistics, which were so accurate in the last presidential election, confirm what many “insiders” believe but don’t even talk about much anymore: Jon Huntsman would be Obama’s toughest challenger. Problem is: Silver’s game doesn’t include the primaries. The presidential race is like a double-header where the dimensions of the diamond change dramatically from the first to the second game. Right now, Huntsman isn’t in the line-up for the night-cap.

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