Placing their bet.

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The Odds on Republican Contenders

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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In February, I offered odds on the Republican nomination contest. The field of candidates has evolved since then, and the number of genuinely possible winners has narrowed. 

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who officially launched his candidacy this week, is no longer the front-runner, although he's still in the top tier. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have leapfrogged Bush in what remains a wide-open contest.

The field of serious candidates, in my view, now stands at eight. You can think of them competing in brackets similar to the regional brackets used for college basketball playoffs.

The Establishment Bracket consists of Bush and Rubio. The 44-year-old first-term Senator might resist the "establishment" label but he's acceptable to most of the politicians, donors and party elite who comprise this group.

The Midwestern Governors Bracket includes Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The first six months of 2015 belonged to the Wisconsinite. The Ohio Governor, whose late entry is expected within weeks, has the potential to shake up the field.

The Hard Right Bracket features Ted Cruz, the first-term Texas Senator, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. These two are different in background, style and culture, but they are favorites of religious conservatives. They're also the best debaters in the contest. Only one will survive the early primaries.

The P Bracket is my catch-all for Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Paul has carved out unique turf and looks to have staying power. Perry may struggle to outlast his dismal showing in 2012.

Now for my odds, which I will pit against rival offerings in London, Las Vegas or the Iowa futures market.

Scott Walker: 3-to-1. He has yet to officially declare his candidacy but he is the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses and he polls well in a range of states from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Walker's a favorite of Charles and David Koch, but can he handle the intense scrutiny of a presidential run?

Marco Rubio: 4-to-1: If Walker has won the first six months of the "invisible primary," the Florida Senator has been gaining ground. With youth, good looks and charm, he's the 21st century Republican answer to John F. Kennedy. But his Senate record is empty, and questions about his personal finances and ethics will persist (look for the Bush camp to savage him in the months ahead). Florida holds a winner-take-all primary March 15. Either Rubio or Bush will still be viable on March 16 -- but not both.

Jeb Bush: 5-to-1: Bush has had a bad year so far, marked by his inability to clear the crowded Republican field or to shake the tarnish of his brother's presidency. He has the time and resources to bounce back but faces big tactical decisions: Should he compete in Iowa, where he could finish fifth? And does he then have to win New Hampshire?

John Kasich: 7-to-1: This assumes the Ohio Governor's charm and knowledge will trump his flakiness; it'll be a close call. He is suspect to many conservatives -- he expanded Medicaid for the poor under Obamacare --- but Kasich has first-rate strategists and the former chairman of the House Budget Committee is better versed in national and global issues than Walker.

Ted Cruz: 8-to-1: He's tough, although anathema to more mainstream Republicans. If he scores an early upset in Iowa he will become a contender. If he waits for later contests, it won't happen.

Rand Paul 10-to-1: He has expanded the libertarian brand more in rhetoric than in reality. He could win one of the early races, such as the Nevada primary. If he won another, it would rattle the Republican foreign policy establishment, many of whom would prefer even Hillary Clinton to the Kentucky lawmaker.

Mike Huckabee: 20-to-1: The only genuine right-wing populist in the field, the Baptist preacher has traction on the religious right. But Huckabee will be money-starved and has little potential to broaden his support.

Perry: 25-to-1: The best retail politician in the field, he still suffers from his dreadful performance in the 2012 primaries; an indictment in Texas, which he'll probably beat, doesn't help.

There are others who won't win the nomination but can influence agendas and results. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, gets elite media attention but isn't making nearly the mark in polls and with the grass roots that neurosurgeon Ben Carson has despite his many gaffes. Similarly, Lindsey Graham, the hawkish South Carolina Senator, will contribute to the party debate. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who only two years ago was considered the most compelling figure in the party, has more baggage than United Airlines.)

Want a 30 to 1 long-shot? A protracted, inconclusive race forces the party to turn to the tried -- Mitt Romney.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net