It’s not exactly prime betting season in Washington. March Madness is long over, the baseball season is just getting started, and Barry Bonds’s imminent career home-run record--asterisked or not--is such a sure thing that no bookie in his right mind would take odds against it. But there is one exciting contest that should stimulate some serious inside-the-Beltway betting (of course we’d be shocked--shocked--if anyone thought we were actually promoting gambling, which is illegal). Of the two top embattled officials in Washington, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will resign first? Neither man says he has any intention of stepping down, of course, and both still have the vocal backing of President Bush. But Gonzales has all but lost the support of his own Republican Party after a disastrously inept performance on the Hill last week over his involvement in the firing of U.S. attorneys. Meanwhile Wolfowitz, bogged down in a scandal over his direct involvement in the salary and promotion of his girlfriend, World Bank careerist Shaha Riza, seems to have very few supporters left inside the Bank, which is run by an international board of directors. Wolfowitz has hired a top D.C. defense lawyer, Robert Bennett, even as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may be discussing Wolfowitz's future prospects with his old Goldman Sachs underling, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. (Bolten declined to comment when asked about this matter at last weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner, but the second-term chief of staff is widely credited for ridding Bush of a slew of underperforming officials, most recently Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.)
Even if official Washington isn’t saying anything, futures traders are jumping in with both feet. According to John Delaney, the chief executive of Intrade, an online futures-trading market, the latest contracts betting has Gonzales much more likely to step down than Wolfowitz. “Currently we’d give Wolfowitz a 42 percent probability of being gone by the end of June,” says Delaney. By contrast, the figure for Gonzales is a 55 percent probability, he says. Those odds have increased in the last week from 50 percent for Gonzales and 30 percent for Wolfowitz. Delaney said it was not clear how the markets arrived at those numbers, but he said traders were phenomenally prescient in divining such things. “In the days before Rumsfeld resigned, our markets moved up by 15 points, even before there was any news. They also went up on Saddam in the hours before he was captured,” Delaney said. “I don’t know why. The market is much smarter than I am.” Place your bets, folks. But get odds.