"Prepare for a truly brutal battle between Fox and Davis for the precious votes of the Right that will make the difference between a place on the final ballot paper, and an early bath tomorrow afternoon. Dr Fox has the momentum, Mr Davis has the guile."
That's the prediction of Matthew d'Ancona in today's Telegraph. Whether Fox can hunt down Mr Davis is the most important question over the next 48 hours.
Here are the factors at play:
Was Fox's vote inflated by Eurosceptic tactical voting? Fox, with 42 votes, received 19 more votes than he had received public declarations. The Davis campaign is suggesting that tactical voting boosted Dr Fox's vote. They believe that otherwise undecided Eurosceptics voted for Dr Fox to dump Ken Clarke from the contest. That belief received some backing when David Healthcoat-Amory admitted to voting for Dr Fox for the sole reason of eliminating the once enthusiastic advocate of the euro and EU constitution. Did many others do the same? Such eurosceptics are not going to be attracted to the Davis camp, however, by its suggestion (reported on this morning's Today programme) that DD is the least eurosceptic of the candidates. This claim is apparently based on DD's refusal to match the other two candidates' pledge (which a DD team member described as "totemic") to take the Tory Party's MEPs out of the federalist EPP. A core of LF's vote was the Cornerstone Group - safely delivered by John Hayes MP. They aren't going to desert Dr Fox now.
Who can win most of Ken Clarke's supporters? My guess is that David Cameron will pick up three-quarters (maybe more) of Clarke's backers. Ken Clarke's leading supporter - Sir Malcolm Rifkind - has already declared for the 39-year-old education spokesman. Ken Clarke will almost certainly vote for Mr Cameron and may even declare for him later today. DD's 'We're the least Eurosceptic' message seems designed to win over a few Clarke backers but is it credible? Europhile and DD-backer Ian Taylor will be the DD campaign's frontman in the pitch to KC's backers. The Guardian suggests that the Fox team will deploy the moderate Gary Streeter in its bid to pick up a few Clarke votes. Mr Streeter is on excellent terms with people like Alistair Burt and David Curry but it will be a tall order for him to attract KC voters to LF's vividly eurosceptic colours. Senior Fox campaign manager Oliver Heald (a Clarke supporter in 2001) has organised for a number of Clarke supporters to meet Dr Fox today.
Can Liam Fox attract defectors from David Davis? This will be the doctor's most fertile territory. Many DD supporters are complaining that their choice appears exhausted and unable to restart his campaign after the Blackpool setbacks. Adam Holloway has already jumped ship - telling DD on Monday night that he wouldn't be able to back him (although I think he switched to Cameron, not Fox). At least three other DD supporters either supported other candidates for substantial or tactical reasons in yesterday's ballot. According to today's Guardian Chris Grayling MP, of the Fox campaign, has said that "the opportunity has now arisen for us to become the champions of the right."
Will DD's careerist backers switch to DC? Some of DD's early backers probably supported him for reasons more to do with their career prospects than because they had decided Mr Davis was the right man to lead the Conservative Party. A few MPs might join the Cameron bandwagon in order to improve their chances of becoming Shadow Minister for Administrative Affairs in the Cameron era.
Who do the grassroots want? The unscientific poll on this site suggests that the party in the country might prefer a Fox-Cameron showdown to a Davis-Cameron contest. If MPs are listening to their association members they might be encouraged to switch to Dr Fox. A better indication of grassroots opinion will come tomorrow when a YouGov survey of Tory members is published by The Telegraph. Owen Paterson MP, a Fox supporter, is already talking up this factor: " I don't know how Davis can win in the country. There is momentum in the Davis camp, but it is all going in the wrong direction. A Fox-Cameron battle would be really good for the party in the country."
Will DC supporters vote tactically for Fox or Davis? This is the biggest unknown factor. DC may get close to 100 votes tomorrow. He doesn't need all of those votes and some MPs might be 'released' to inflate the vote of the candidate that they think would be easier to beat in the run-off. The trouble with that tactic is that the DC camp aren't sure who that easier-to-beat candidate might be.
My prediction is that David Davis will scrape through. He will progress to the final round as a wounded candidate and one who has failed to find any strong response to the Cameron Phenomenon. Without something dramatic it is very difficult to see how David Cameron could be beaten. If Fox fails to progress (which would disappoint me for the reasons stated yesterday) I predict that he will endorse David Cameron. There are poor personal relations between Dr Fox and Mr Davis.
Make your own predictions for tomorrow's second round by clicking here.