Foreign Secretary Liz Truss won two prominent backers on the Conservative right as her largely behind-the-scenes campaign to be Britain's next Prime Minister gathered momentum on Wednesday.
Although Ms Truss has not made a formal campaign speech since entering the race to succeed Boris Johnson, she has more MPs behind her than most of her rivals and is regarded as one of the best-placed candidates to challenge front-runner Rishi Sunak in a final-round vote.
Before balloting began on Wednesday, Ms Truss made her case at a closed-door hustings organised by a right-wing group of MPs called the 92 Group, which was grilling the eight remaining candidates.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith joined the ranks of her supporters on Wednesday, saying Ms Truss "understands how government works" and had a "very clear agenda on both delivering Brexit and tackling the cost of living".
And Mark Francois, one of the most fervent Brexit supporters on the Tory benches and the chairman of the influential European Research Group, told a local radio station that he too was supporting Ms Truss.
Although Ms Truss favoured staying in the European Union in the 2016 referendum, she has taken a hard line on Brussels in recent negotiations over Northern Ireland that sits well with the right of the party.
A political survivor who has been in the Cabinet since 2014 under three prime ministers, she promised in a launch video on Monday that she would "continue to deliver on the opportunities of Brexit" if she wins the leadership race.
While rivals such as Mr Sunak and Penny Mordaunt have made major public speeches before the first round of balloting on Wednesday, Ms Truss's campaign has emphasised its support in the corridors of power — including from some of Mr Johnson's closest allies.
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries, two ministers who stood by Mr Johnson during the ministerial revolt that brought him down, came out in favour of Ms Truss on Tuesday.
Mr Rees-Mogg told Sky News on Wednesday that Ms Truss was now a more reliable Brexiteer than Mr Sunak, even though their respective positions in 2016 would imply the opposite.
"I think you have to judge people by what they do currently," he said. "Everyone knows that Liz voted for Remain, but, within Cabinet, it’s very interesting — the Foreign Secretary was completely supportive about getting rid of the supremacy of EU law."
'Keep the blue wall standing'
Another minister in Mr Johnson's caretaker government, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, said Ms Truss was the only candidate "committed to tax cuts on day one", a crucial theme of the campaign.
"She's shown decisive leadership in Russia, in the fight against Putin," he said, "and she's determined to make the most of Brexit with her fantastic work on the Northern Ireland protocol."
But there was support from a prominent anti-Johnson rebel too, as Dehenna Davison — described as the poster girl of the Tory MPs who won their seats in traditionally Labour-held "red wall" constituencies in 2019 — said Ms Truss was best-placed to repeat that electoral success.
"Liz is the only person who can keep the entire blue wall standing," she wrote in an article for The Times.
MPs will vote for the first time in the leadership contest on Wednesday afternoon. The lowest-ranked candidate, and anyone who fails to get at least 30 votes, will be eliminated.
The process will be repeated as many times as necessary until only two candidates are left standing, at which point the grass roots party membership will pick the winner.
Nadhim Zahawi, Tom Tugendhat, Suella Braverman, Jeremy Hunt and Kemi Badenoch are the other remaining candidates along with Ms Truss, Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt.