Foreign Secretary Truss eyes UK leadership runoff with Sunak as Tories vote again

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Conservative members of Parliament on Wednesday will decide which two candidates face off in the battle to replace Boris Johnson as UK prime minister, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss now the favorite to join Rishi Sunak in the final ballot.

Sunak on Tuesday topped a fourth ballot of Tory lawmakers with 118 votes, just two short of the threshold that would guarantee the former Chancellor of the Exchequer a spot in the runoff.

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But it’s the battle for second that’s heating up, as Truss closed the gap on Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, who’s been runner up to Sunak in each round of voting, but is now losing steam. Momentum and mathematics now appear to favor the foreign secretary in the race for No. 10.

The result of the fifth and final ballot of Tory MPs will be announced at 4 p.m. Wednesday. At stake is a chance for the candidates to put their case to the Conservative Party grassroots over the remainder of the summer. Those members will vote for their next leader -- and prime minister, with an announcement due September 5.

Ahead of the vote, Truss and Mordaunt are battling to win thesupport of the all-important 59 MPs who had backed Kemi Badenoch, the contender from the right of the party who was

knocked out on Tuesday. The foreign secretary now trails Mordaunt by just six votes, and is a more natural fit to win over those MPs.

Supporters of both Truss and Mordaunt were quick to praise Badenoch, who’s held several junior ministerial posts while never serving in the cabinet. Mordaunt praised Badenoch’s “fresh thinking and bold policies.”

But the reality is it will be a challenge for her to win over many of Badenoch’s backers. The trade minister comes from the One Nation centrist wing of the Tory party, and Badenoch is firmly on the right. The two contenders sparred in television debates on issues such as Mordaunt’s record on transgender rights.

Badenoch is also seen as a close ally of Sunak, and some of her supporters, such as former Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove, may switch over to him. Badenoch herself may make an announcement on who she is supporting before Wednesday’s vote.

If Badenoch’s backers divide up largely between Sunak and Truss, then the foreign secretary should be able to overcome her deficit to Mordaunt and clinch second place.

Tactical voting

But the voting intentions of Tory MPs in leadership contests are always complex and unpredictable, and there have been accusations of tactical voting and vote-lending over the past few days.

It is possible that Sunak has built such a commanding lead in terms of supporters that he might lend votes to whoever he perceives to be the weaker candidate, most likely Mordaunt.
Sunak’s team deny any game-playing and insist they are fighting for every vote.

Truss’ improved hopes of reaching the final two were reflected in the betting odds offered by UK bookmakers after Tuesday’s vote. Ladbrokes made her the even favorite to emerge as the eventual victor, with Sunak close behind at 5-to-4. Mordaunt, who only a few days ago herself was the favorite, is now rated a 7-to-1 chance.

The latest YouGov poll of Conservative members on Tuesday suggested that Sunak would lose against either Truss or Mordaunt, although members’ opinions appear volatile and could easily change over the coming campaign.

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