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Penny Mordaunt closed the gap with frontrunner Rishi Sunak as the race to succeed Boris Johnson at the helm of the U.K.’s governing Conservative Party tightened.
Mordaunt, an initial long shot whose campaign has been gaining momentum in recent days, picked up the support of 83 Tory lawmakers, up from 67 in the first round of voting among MPs.
It boosts her chances of making it through as one of the final two candidates who will duke it out for the backing of the wider Conservative membership.
Mordaunt is chasing Sunak, Johnson’s former chancellor, who landed the backing of 101 colleagues, up from the 88 he secured in the first round of voting.
Attorney General Suella Braverman, a key candidate among the Brexiteer right of the Tory party, has been knocked out of the race, leaving five contenders in the contest.
Under Conservative Party rules, MPs get to have the first say on the field of hopefuls, eliminating the lowest-placed candidate in successive rounds of voting before the final two are put to a vote of the wider Tory membership.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss now has the support of 64 MPs (she previously had the support of 50), former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch won over 49 colleagues (up from 40), while foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat stays in the race after getting 32 votes.
That’s down from 37 in the first round, but still places him ahead of Braverman, who as the last-placed contender on 27 votes (down 5) is knocked out.
A series of polls have shown that Mordaunt, currently a trade minister, is out ahead when it comes to members’ preferences, in a campaign that’s already seen government veterans Nadhim Zahawi, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid crash out after failing to win enough support from colleagues.
The Tory leadership race still has the potential for upset as it heads into further rounds of MP voting in the coming days.
Lawmakers who backed eliminated candidates can be expected to row in behind the remaining contenders, while others switch allegiance during the twists and turns of campaigning.
Truss, who earned the valuable backing of former Brexit negotiator David Frost Thursday, is popular among the Right of the Conservative Party, and both her and Badenoch, a former equalities minister who has run on a free-market, anti-‘woke’ ticket, are well-placed to gather up support from Braverman’s backers.
The fight to lead the governing Tory Party was triggered by last week’s dramatic resignation of Johnson, who was ousted following a host of resignations from his government over his response to a series of scandals. Johnson is staying on in an interim capacity while the leadership race plays out, and will step aside September 6, after the new leader is confirmed in the job.