RISHI Sunak is tonight gambling on storming a make-or-break interview to keep his evaporating PM dreams alive.
After an awkward first hustings, he is scrambling to catch up with Liz Truss – who the bookies now put within touching distance of No10.
The latest odds from Smarkets give the Foreign Secretary a 90 per cent chance of winning the Tory leadership contest against a 10 per cent hope for the former Chancellor.
But Mr Sunak is hoping to turn the tide by winning a TV bout with rottweiler interviewer Andrew Neil at 7.30pm on Channel 4.
Ms Truss is ducking the grilling with the notoriously tough broadcaster, giving Mr Sunak the opportunity to score free points against his rival.
He has already been taunting Ms Truss for dodging the interview and will likely ramp this up after tonight’s showdown.
But his gamble could spectacularly backfire if Mr Neil skewers Mr Sunak on his pitch to be PM.
A further blow came last night as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace exclusively declared his support for Ms Truss in The Sun – and tore into Mr Sunak.
Defiant Mr Sunak last night said he is fighting for every vote and insisted: “We are going to have to appeal to swing voters in every part of our country.
“And I believe with all my heart that I am the person, I am the candidate, that gives our party the best opportunity to secure that victory.”
But his window to close the gap is vanishing fast as ballot papers will land on 160,000 Tory members’ doormats on Monday.
While activists can change their mind online ahead of the results on September 5, the next few days are crucial for both candidates.
Tory grandee Michael Portillo feared the writing was already on the walls for Mr Sunak.
The former Defence Secretary told LBC: “I think it is slipping away from Rishi Sunak. I think he is losing the campaign.”
Smarkets Head of Political Markets, Matthew Shaddick, said: “Many were forecasting that Sunak would be a better campaigner, but Truss’s debate performances have beaten expectations and, if anything, Sunak’s team appears to be the one on the defensive.”