Lots of people call themselves political junkies. They haven't met Christina Gomez, a Democratic political operative in Texas who takes being a political junkie to a whole new level. There isn't a 12-step program for her political addiction. Gomez likes to bet on politics on Intrade, an online prediction market.
"Intrade for political professionals is like the ultimate insider training. I feel like Martha Stewart. You take the industry you live and breathe and know and love and hate, and you make money off of it. It's like a performance bonus to subsidize staffer pay," she said. "I wish I had more inside knowledge. Until that kind of insider trading becomes illegal, I'm going to do it till they haul me away."
Intrade is a online trading exchange website that bills itself as "the world's leading prediction market." It's a stock exchange for predictions on everything from whether the economy will go back into a recession or whether NASA will announce the discovery of extraterrestrial life this year. If you think a predicted event will happen, you buy a share from someone who is selling. Supply and demand determines the price.
"It's all market driven. I guess that's how you get around gambling laws. It's individuals selling things to each other," says Gomez.
Intrade is bullish on Barack Obama keeping the White House. The betting line -- excuse me, the prediction market -- on Obama peaked at 70% on May 2, 2011 when he announced that SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden. After that he fell below 50% last summer and only began to climb out of negative territory when the Occupy Wall Street movement focused the country on corporate greed amid widespread unemployment. Now Obama's a 60% bet to be re-elected.
Perhaps because of insiders such as Gomez, Intrade has done a better job of predicting winners than traditional pollsters have. Intrade predicted the correct winner in every single state in the Bush-Kerry battle in 2004, an election that exit polling messed up so badly that Congress actually held a hearing.
In 2003 the Defense Department created a prediction market for, among other things, future terrorist attacks on the United States. Using tax dollars to provide a forum to speculate on the mass murder of Americans went over only a little better than an actual terrorist attack, but Gomez says you can't let your personal feelings get in the way of whether you think something is going to happen. Gomez, who makes her living being a Democrat, said she would have no problem betting on Mitt Romney to win in November at the right price.
"Absolutely. It's not personal. It's business," she said. She said she has also bet against her beloved Boston Red Sox but would never root against them, and Gomez said she'd have no problem putting money down on Romney "if I thought it was going to be a good bet, which I don't, by the way. There's no conscience in this business."
Gomez has "a ton of Romney bets all over the place" to win the Republican nomination, but that didn't stop her from playing the other ponies during this extended horserace.
Like anyone in the sports book in Vegas, Gomez has her shoulda-coulda-woulda stories. And like most insiders in Texas, she bet wrong on Gov. Rick Perry.
"Oh God, Perry was a total loss," she said, speaking of her own fortunes as much as his. "I couldn't give up on Perry because he couldn't possibly have failed as big as he did."
She's mad for not buying Newt stock after the first South Carolina debate and unloading it after he won the primary on "people who don't know any better." Even though she missed a chance to cash in on Newt like a salesperson at Tiffany & Co., she loves bragging about the 36 hours she rode "Huntsmentum."
When Gov. Jon Huntsman slapped Romney for besmirching his service as Obama's U.S. Ambassador to China, "I bought Huntsman really low," said Gomez. "That was the beginning of Huntsmentum. I also unloaded it for about $4 a share the next day. I used that profit to bet against him finishing in the top two in New Hampshire -- a good bet."
So next time you bemoan the fact that the Republican primary has become a horserace that's gone on a lap too long, make like Gomez-Hicks and pick a pony on Intrade. Like any spectator sport, politics is a lot more exciting when you have skin in the game.