Popular appeal (0-5)
Popular support isn't a primary factor for Khamenei -- if it were, very few of the current candidates would be in the race -- but it could prove challenging for him to simply anoint the most servile candidate without any consideration for what the people want. That said, high vote turnout has always been priority for Khamenei, in order to project international legitimacy. "A vote for any candidate," Khamenei frequently says, "is a vote for the Islamic Republic."
Iranian public opinion polls should be taken with a large chunk of salt, given the inherent challenges of asking authoritarian-ruled societies sensitive political questions. In the last several days, however, Rowhani's candidacy has experienced a surge which is palpable both empirically and anecdotally. The lone "reformist" voice of a young population thirsty for change, Rowhani lacks Khatami's genial touch, is for millions of Iranians the least bad option.
Ghalibaf leads most "official" polls, and finishes a close second to Rowhani in arguably the most objective unofficial poll. His reputation, however, took a blow among the youth and middle classes, when audiotapes were released in which he boasted of personally crushing student protests in 1999 and 2003 while head of Iran's police force.
As astute Iranian scholar Mohsen Milani told me, Jalili is "not merely uncharismatic, he's anti-charismatic." Despite all the resources at his disposal, Jalili lags behinds in both official and unofficial polls. His harsh demeanor has made little inroads with the country's urban youth -- arguably the most important voting bloc. Nor does he employ the same pious populism as Mahmoud "I will put the oil money on your dinner tables" Ahmadinejad.
Rezaei is a less charismatic version of Ghalibaf -- a military commander who touts his non-ideological management skills. In media speak, he also has a "face for radio," which perhaps explains his low support among women.
Notwithstanding his recent endorsement by a group of Iranian diplomats and MPs, Velayati's social and institutional support base is limited. Without the support of the basij, IRGC, urban youth, and moderate middle class, Velayati's sole constituency is Khamenei.
Revolutionary Guard support (0-5)
While there is little evidence to back some analysts' assumption that Khamenei has become a servant to his own "praetorian guards," there is ample proof that the IRGC has eclipsed the clergy in terms of economic and political influence. Given Khamenei's increasing reliance on the Revolutionary Guards in nuclear issues, on Syria, circumventing sanctions, and maintaining public order, it makes sense that it is perhaps the most critical interest group that he has to take into account.
A decorated war veteran, Ghalibaf joined the IRGC at the tender age of 19 and quickly rose through the ranks. His rapport with the military institution is perhaps akin to that of an American high school football captain years after graduation. His former teammates respect him, and the younger generation respects his legacy. Qassem Soleimani -- commander of the IRGC's powerful Qods force unit -- reportedly endorsed Ghalibaf.
Jalili, who is sometimes referred to as a "living martyr" because he lost part of his leg fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, isn't shy about mentioning his military service. But his low-level service in the IRGC during the war can't compete with Ghalibaf. Jalili, however, is reportedly more popular with the younger generation IRGC cadres who are devoted to Khamenei.
Rezaei belongs to the first generation of IRGC commanders, and is less well known to today's servicemen since he has been out of the service for nearly two decades.
Velayati never served in the war, or in the IRGC. He's a product of the Foreign Ministry -- a considerably less important electoral constituency in Tehran (as in DC).
Rowhani did not serve in the war, and his association with reformists -- who have been critical of the IRGC's outsize role in Iran's politics and economics -- will not win him points here.
So, who wins?
Tabulating these numbers produces the following result:
But prophesizing the outcome of the Iranian election depends less on the sum total of these numbers and more on one's opinion of how the system itself functions. Those who trust the integrity of the electoral process -- an increasingly small group -- foresee a run-off between Rowhani and Ghalibaf. Those who believe that Khamenei's decision is paramount project Jalili as the obvious winner. And perhaps for the first time, Khamenei may see his interests in conflict with those of the Revolutionary Guards.
If past is precedent, however, there's one thing we do know: predicting anything about Iran's opaque politics is a fool's errand. And, having never progressed beyond college calculus I am no Nate Silverzadeh. But if there's something that seems like a good bet, it's that the Supreme Leader will remain supreme.