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Boris Johnson Shows Strength in Conservative Leadership Contest

Category: Europe,World

LONDON — Boris Johnson finished well ahead of his rivals on Thursday in the first round of balloting among Conservative lawmakers in the race to replace Theresa May as the party’s leader, a significant step toward becoming the next prime minister of Britain.

Mr. Johnson secured 114 votes from the 313 Conservative lawmakers; his closest competitor, Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, had 43.

Rory Stewart, the international development secretary and a centrist who has campaigned against a no-deal Brexit, survived the first ballot by winning 19 votes.

If Mr. Johnson maintains his current level of support in subsequent rounds of voting, he would be guaranteed a place in the final list of two candidates, one of whom will ultimately be selected by Conservative Party members.

That puts him in a very strong position, given that he is popular with Conservative activists who generally give him a warm reception at party conferences and who largely favor his tough stance on Brexit.

Several more ballots are likely before the final two candidates are named next week, and it remains unclear who will emerge as the biggest rival to Mr. Johnson.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, was in third place on Thursday with 37 votes, followed by Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, with 27; Sajid Javid, the home secretary, with 23; and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, with 20. Three candidates were eliminated; their supporters will be courted by the remaining contenders.

Mr. Johnson has charisma and a record as a vote winner, having twice been elected mayor of London. But he has emerged as a far more divisive figure in recent years, having spearheaded the Leave campaign for the 2016 Brexit referendum and backing a hard Brexit thereafter. His career has been marked by a succession of gaffes, including homophobic and sexist remarks, and he failed to make an impact during his time as foreign secretary.

Nevertheless, Conservative lawmakers appear to see him as their best chance of winning back voters who defected en masse to the Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, during European Parliament elections last month.

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