Theresa May’s bid to become Tory leader has won the support of two more cabinet ministers and the Daily Mail.
Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin now say they back the home secretary.
She has received pledges of support from many more MPs than the other four candidates, with at least three more cabinet members among her backers.
Meanwhile, fellow contender Michael Gove is to make the first speech of his campaign to become Tory leader, after announcing his candidacy on Thursday.
Rivals Stephen Crabb, Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox are also in the running to lead the Conservative Party and become UK prime minister.
The five contenders have until Tuesday to build support among the 329 Conservative MPs before the first round of voting. The MP with the fewest votes will be eliminated, one at a time, until two remain. They will then go to a vote of the wider party membership.
The winner of the contest is set to be announced on 9 September.
Mr Gove was a surprise addition to the race, having been expected to back Boris Johnson, who shocked the political world by ruling himself out on Thursday.
The Daily Mail backed the home secretary with its front page on Friday, saying “a party in flames and why it must be Theresa”.
With “Westminster increasingly resembling a madhouse”, says the paper, “what the country needs most is a solid and steady hand on the tiller.”
Cabinet colleagues Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin declared their backing for the home secretary’s campaign.
Mr Fallon, the defence secretary, said she was the right person to steer the country through “the serious challenges we now face”.
He said: “Theresa is the best person to lead our exit from the EU so that we reduce immigration and regain sovereignty while protecting our hard won economic growth.”
Writing in the Sun, Mr McLoughlin said Mrs May had “the ‘it’ factor”.
The transport secretary added: “We know that the next prime minister needs to forge a deal from the EU as we shape our brighter future in the rest of the world.
“And her track record shows that when Theresa arrives in Brussels, Europe’s bosses sit up and listen.”
Who’s in the running?
Home Secretary Theresa May: The 59-year-old has replaced Boris Johnson as the bookies’ favourite to win the contest. She’s held the Home Office brief – often something of a poisoned chalice – since 2010, and is a former Tory party chairman. She says she can offer the “strong leadership” and unity the UK needs, and promised a “positive vision” for the country’s future. She backed staying in the EU.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove: The 48-year-old former newspaper columnist was a key figure in the party’s modernisation that led to its return to power in 2010. He was a reforming, if controversial, education secretary between 2010 and 2014, and now holds the Ministry of Justice brief. He was a leading player in the Brexit campaign – which put a strain on his close friendship with David Cameron. He has pitched himself as the candidate that can provide “unity and change.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb: The 43-year-old was promoted to the cabinet in 2014 as Welsh secretary, and boosted his profile earlier this year when he took over as work and pensions secretary. A rising star of the Tory party he has promised to unite the party and country following the referendum result and provide stability. Raised on a council estate by a single mother, he has a back story to which many Tory MPs are attracted. Backed Remain.
Energy minister Andrea Leadsom: The 53-year-old former banker and fund manager was one of the stars of the Leave campaign. A former district councillor, she became MP for South Northamptonshire in 2010 and – after serving as a junior Treasury minister and as a member of the Treasury select committee – she was made a junior minister in the energy and climate change department in May last year.
Former cabinet minister Liam Fox: It’s second time around for the 54-year-old ex-defence secretary and GP, who came a close third in the 2005 leadership contest. His cabinet career was cut short in 2011 when he resigned following a lobbying row. A Brexit campaigner, and on the right of the party, he has said whoever becomes PM must accept “the instruction” of the British people and not “try to backslide” over EU membership.