An unlikely king/queen maker has emerged in the Conservative party leadership race after she picked up votes on the third ballot on Monday night.
Mr Sunak was the winner on Monday extending his lead by taking 115 votes from Tory MPs, up by 14. If he reaches 120 votes in the final round he is guaranteed to progress.
Ms Mordaunt, the trade minister, got 82 votes, down one from Thursday’s second round ballot. The change may have reflected how she was perceived to have fared in the two TV debates since then.
Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, was still in third with 71 votes. That was an increase of seven votes, meaning she closed ground on Ms Mordaunt.
But the limited increase raised doubts about whether the 27 Tory MPs who voted for Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, when she was kicked out of the race followed her call to back Ms Truss.
Ms Badenoch received 58 votes, up by nine. Only Mr Sunak picked up more votes in the third round. However, she is most at risk of being knocked out during the next round of voting today.
Nobody saw this coming
Few pundits or Tory MPs predicted at the start of the contest that Ms Badenoch, who only became an MP in 2017 and has never been in the Cabinet, would make the last four.
Much has been made of the Mordaunt effect, however, the Kemi effect is arguably more fascinating.
Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, gained the most support from fellow Tory MPs and is now on the brink of making the final two candidates, who will progress to a vote of party members.
But neither of the rivals best placed for the second slot surged, with Liz Truss not picking up as many votes as hoped and Penny Mordaunt actually losing a vote.
Backers of both Ms Truss and Ms Mordaunt were on Monday night already courting those who voted for Mrs Badenoch, who declared she would remain in the race and was “in it to win”.
MPs have ‘buyers remorse’
Michael Gove, the former communities secretary, claimed that Mrs Badenoch – whom he is backing – could even make the final two after MPs had “buyer’s remorse” for initially supporting other candidates.
Just four candidates in the race to replace Boris Johnson and become the next prime minister now remain.
The next stage of the race will be dramatic and interesting.
Sunak’s place in the Final 5 appears secure. He’s five off the magic 120 that guarantees him a summer of hustings. He should be home and dry tomorrow: it seems likely that most of the 31 backing Tom Tugendhat, eliminated yesterday will transfer to the former chancellor. That’s at least what rumours in parliament seem to confirm.
The odds of Mordaunt becoming Prime Minister are very slim because the combined vote of Truss and Badenoch is 129 – and that Brexit right-wing vote is likely to coalesce behind one of Truss and Badenoch, either through a formal deal between the two or through natural competition.