LONDON – And then there were seven. The contest to be Britain's next prime minister lost three of its 10 declared candidates Thursday, as Boris Johnson took a commanding lead in first-round voting by Conservative Party legislators.
The winner will replace Prime Minister Theresa May, who resigned as party leader last week after failing to lead Britain out of the European Union on schedule.
Here's who is in the running:
— BORIS JOHNSON, 54:
The former London mayor and British foreign secretary is finally within touching distance of his long-cherished ambition to be U.K. prime minister. He got 114 of the 313 votes, more than the next three competitors combined. Johnson looks almost certain to be one of the two finalists in the deciding vote. .
Johnson's easy jokes and Latin quips have made him one of the Conservative Party's most popular politicians. But verbal blunders and glibly offensive statements also have led some to question his fitness for high office. He faced criticism last year for comparing Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to the sturdy red "letter boxes" on Britain's streets.
Johnson's team is keeping him on a tight leash, rationing his public appearances in an attempt to avoid any gaffes that could derail his campaign.
A leading figure in the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union, Johnson takes a tough line on Brexit. He has vowed that Britain will withdraw from the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a withdrawal agreement that some economists warn is needed to prevent chaos. He also threatened to withhold a 39 billion pound ($50 billion) divorce payment if the EU plays hardball.
— JEREMY HUNT, 52:
Hunt, who came in a distant second to Johnson, has held a variety of government posts and served as foreign secretary since Johnson resigned in JuIy over Brexit. Regarded as even-tempered and competent, he managed to navigate a heated contract dispute with doctors in the National Health Service as health secretary.
Hunt has a reputation for being unflappable under pressure and a good communicator, but some doubt he is flashy enough to excite the electorate.
Hunt backed the losing "remain" side during the 2016 EU membership referendum that yielded Brexit, but now says he would negotiate a better withdrawal deal with the EU and lead the U.K. out of the bloc.
— MICHAEL GOVE, 51:
Like Johnson, Gove helped lead the campaign to leave the European Union, but scuttled his friend Johnson's bid to become prime minister in 2016 when he unexpectedly withdrew his support and decided to run for the job himself; the move left him with a lingering taint of treachery in the eyes of some Conservatives.
Gove has held several posts in May's government — he's currently environment secretary — and backed her Brexit policies even as former colleagues denounced the prime minister's withdrawal deal with the EU. That hurts him among hardcore Brexiteers, who believe he went soft by supporting May's deal.
Gove is also facing pressure after acknowledging that he used cocaine more than once before entering politics.
— DOMINIC RAAB, 45:
The government's former Brexit secretary, who held the post from July to November, resigned in opposition to the divorce deal May struck with the EU. A firm Brexiteer, he says Britain has been "humiliated" by the bloc and must not delay its departure beyond Oct. 31; he has even suggested he could suspend Parliament if it tried to delay or impede Brexit.
Raab aimed to become the favored candidate of the party's "hard Brexit" wing, but has seen much of that support go to Johnson.
Raab also appears to be playing to the party's traditionalists, saying he is "probably not" a feminist and opposes making it easier for people to legally change their gender.
— SAJID JAVID, 48:
Javid's background as the son of Pakistani immigrants sets him apart from many other Conservative contenders. A former banker who was elected to Parliament in 2010, he is a champion of the free-market, libertarian wing of the party.
During the 2016 referendum, Javid was on the "remain" side but has since embraced Brexit. However, some Brexiteers remain suspicious of his allegiances. He says he would make getting a new deal with the EU his "absolute priority" and does not favor walking away without a divorce agreement, though would do so as a last resort.
As British home secretary, the official responsible for immigration and borders, he raised his profile in recent months by taking aggressive action to curtail the arrival of small boats carrying migrants across the English Channel.
—MATT HANCOCK, 40:
Health Secretary Matt Hancock pitches himself as the face of a younger, modernizing generation in the Conservative Party. Promising to deliver an energizing blend of social liberalism and economic dynamism, he says the Conservatives have to look beyond Brexit — a message that may be coming too soon for many in the party.
— RORY STEWART, 46:
A longshot candidate who is shaking up the race, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart has seen his profile soar with a savvy campaign. Stewart is traveling the country talking to voters and producing endearingly amateurish social media videos. He has the most eye-catching background of any candidate: a onetime tutor to Princes William and Harry, Stewart once walked across Afghanistan and was deputy governor of a province in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
A former supporter of remaining in the EU, he now backs Brexit but appeals for compromise, saying Britain can't realistically leave the bloc without a divorce deal. He has slammed the promises of Johnson and other Brexit-backers as unrealistic and calls himself the "anti-Boris" candidate.
Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership race at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit