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Election season beginning to look more like the stock market
January 2, 2008

Keith McCord reporting

Would you be willing to invest in a candidate if you could make money when the election was over? In other words, if the candidate were a stock, would you want to invest in a few shares? Well, you can!

It's the real deal, and it's legal. The business school at the University of Iowa began open trading on its "Iowa Electronic Market" back in June of 2006--when the candidates were in the very early stages of their campaigns. The business school says the "IEM" is primarily for teaching and research so students can learn how markets work, but anybody can buy in.

If you dabble in the stock market, or have a retirement account, you own shares of various companies. Share prices go up and down based on the buying and selling. Well, listen up political junkies, now you can buy shares of Hillary, Barack, Mitt or Rudy.

It's real money with real payouts, and it works just like any other stock trade. There are prices for buying and selling, and you can track your "investments" on stock charts.

For example, the latest graph on the Democratic race shows Hillary Clinton in blue. She has a higher price per share than Barack Obama, in green; Edwards, in yellow; and all others in red. On the Republican side, it's a much messier map to be sure, showing the ups and downs of Rudy, in blue; Mitt, in green; and McCain, in yellow.

The IEM offers several prospectuses: You can invest in a candidate to just win the party nomination, or you can invest in which party or individual candidate will ultimately win the White House.

Here are the latest prices for the Democrats: a share of Hillary Clinton will cost you 64 cents, Barack Obama is at 25 cents, and John Edwards is a bargain at 12 cents a share.

For the Republicans: Mitt Romney is currently 30 cents a share, McCain and Giuliani are 23 and 22 cents respectively, and Huckabee is selling for 15 cents a share.

The IEM will pay out $1 per share no matter who wins. So, if you buy a bunch of John Edwards shares for 12 cents, and he wins the Democratic nomination, you'll have a good return on your investment.

The Iowa Electronic Market is operated as not-for-profit. It's an educational tool. Not a lot of money involved either--the maximum you can invest is $500.

If you'd just like to play for fun, there's also a political "fantasy league" created by the Real Clear Politics organization. This isn't associated with the school but is just like those sports "fantasy" leagues where you earn points based on how the people perform.

To check out both the IEM and Real Clear fantasy Web sites, just click the related links.