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The BBC's John Pienaar
"No-one knows who will win this contest now"
 real 56k

David Davis MP
steps down from the leadership race
 real 56k

Eric Forth MP, David Davis supporter
"I am very sad David has chosen to pull out"
 real 56k

John Maples MP, Kenneth Clarke supporter
"I think he did the right thing"
 real 56k

Friday, 13 July, 2001, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Tory race on knife edge
Ken Clarke, Michael Portillo, Iain Duncan Smith
Tuesday's vote will see one more contender eliminated
The Conservative leadership contest is on a knife edge after "dark horse" candidate David Davis pulled out of the race.

With the election field down to three, Mr Davis urged his backers to switch their votes to another right-winger, Iain Duncan Smith.

First round re-run
Michael Portillo - 50 votes
Iain Duncan Smith - 42 votes
Ken Clarke - 39 votes
David Davis - 18 votes
Michael Ancram - 17 votes
Mr Duncan Smith said he was taking nothing for granted while his rivals, Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo, insisted they could win over many of those who originally backed Mr Davis and Michael Ancram.

News of Mr Davis's withdrawal came after he secured fourth place in the re-run first round of MPs votes, scoring just one vote more than Mr Ancram who came last.

The 166 Tory MPs hold their final ballot on Tuesday to choose which two challengers will go before all 300,000 Tory members, with the victor named on 12 September.

Gap too wide

Announcing his decision on Friday morning, Mr Davis said: "Having taken soundings from my colleagues in the House last night it is clear that we cannot close the gap with the next contender in the leadership election."

He endorsed Mr Duncan Smith as the man "most likely to carry forward the agenda that we have set out in this campaign".

"I recommend my team to do the same but those of you who know my team know none of them take orders," he continued.

David Davis announces he is pulling out of the race on Friday
Davis has handed his baton to Duncan Smith

There is now likely to be a scramble for those votes that went to Mr Davis and Mr Ancram - although the former's decision to back Mr Duncan Smith will be a blow to both the Clarke and Portillo camps.

Later, Mr Davis told BBC News the final MPs ballot would go "right to the wire" with just one vote deciding whether Mr Portillo or Mr Clarke won the vital second place behind Mr Duncan Smith.

As that vote beckoned, Mr Duncan Smith said he would talk to colleagues over the weekend.

"I hope I will be able to persuade many of them that I should be their choice - there are still two months to go and I think I will be able to offer the party voters what they want."

Crossing camps

One Davis supporter, Eric Forth, has already said he will cross to the Duncan Smith camp and more are expected to follow.

But Mr Clarke predicted he could win support from the Davis and Ancram camps.

"I know perfectly well lots of David Davis voters are going to vote for me," he said, insisting he was on course for second place next week.

Ken Clarke
Mr Clarke is confident he can win second place

Close attention will focus now on Michael Ancram, who was automatically eliminated in Thursday's ballot.

He said he would be thinking about which candidate was most likely to achieve his chief aim - party unity.

Early frontrunner Michael Portillo topped Thursday's poll of MPs but added only one vote to his tally in the first ballot on Tuesday.

That slow progress has prompted claims that the shadow chancellor's campaign is losing momentum.

Getting serious

He was once the runaway favourite but two of Britain's biggest bookmakers, Coral and Ladbrokes, made Mr Duncan Smith the leading contender and another, William Hill, tipped Ken Clarke.

But Mr Portillo said MPs were more likely to back him as their final choice approached.

Michael Portillo
Portillo says he can end Tory divisions
"This is now serious," he told reporters.

"Now I think many of those people have been thinking about this and will now want to concentrate on which candidate has the best chance of bringing the various parts of the country together.

"I believe I have the best chance. I believe I am the least factional of the candidates and we have to make factions completely a thing of the past."

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See also:

13 Jul 01 | UK Politics
And then there were three
13 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Dark horse bows out of race
11 Jul 01 | UK Politics
MPs face Tory vote pressure
10 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Dead heat forces Tory poll re-run
10 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Portillo under fire as Tory vote opens
12 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Ancram, the emollient earl
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