Jeremy Hunt is on his way to becoming prime minister based on the current support from Tory MPs, it has been revealed.
The ConservativeHome website has compiled a list of the MPs who are supporting the numerous candidates to take over from Theresa May, after she announced her resignation last week.
Mr Hunt, the foreign secretary, stands right at the top, with the backing of 29 MPs so far.
This total puts him ahead of the former foreign secretary Boris Jonson with 24 and environment secretary Michael Gove on 23.
ConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman wrote: “The arms race to name supporters has begun, and on balance we’ve decided to join it.
“We have been compiling our own list for some time both of declared and undeclared supporters of possible contenders.
“Some names will doubtless come off one column and be added to another… only perhaps later to revert to the original.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt warned that triggering a general election before delivering Brexit would be "catastrophic" for his party, as he proposed finding a "different way" to get an exit deal.
Mr Hunt, who is among 10 MPs vying to be the next prime minister, said a failure to solve Brexit could lead to the end of the Conservatives and warned the "biggest risk" to delivering on the referendum was a general election.
His comments came as housing minister Kit Malthouse became the latest person to enter the race to succeed Theresa May, saying it was time for a "new generation to lead the charge into our future with boldness and vision".
Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm worried that if we don't solve it (Brexit), we will face a political crisis that is far bigger actually than our legal relationship with the EU, it could lead to the destruction of our party system and the end of my own party."
The 52-year-old, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum but has become increasingly Eurosceptic, said he had "always believed we should keep no deal on the table" as it is the "best way of getting a good deal".
"I've always thought that ultimately our economy would find a way to flourish even with the shock of no deal, but the biggest risk to Brexit now is… a general election."
He added: "We must not go back to the electorate asking for their mandate until we've delivered what we promised we would do last time, which is to deliver Brexit, it would be absolutely catastrophic for us as a party."
Mr Hunt said it was important to "find a different way to get a deal", adding "we have to have a go at this" as he proposed forming a new wider negotiating team.
"The only solution to the extremely difficult situation we're in - and I don't want to pretend that there's an easy way through this - is to change the Withdrawal Agreement," he added.