The Tory leadership race in Newfoundland and Labrador increased in size from one candidate to three on Friday morning, with businessman Frank Coleman and town councillor Wayne Bennett joining fish mogul Bill Barry.  

Coleman decided to enter the race, with two prominent would-be candidates making last-minute decisions to stay on the sidelines. 

Coleman said in a statement late Thursday that he would file nomination papers with the Progressive Conservative Party by Friday's noon deadline. 

Wayne Bennett, a member of the town council in the western Newfoundland town of Howley, gathered enough signatures for his bid to enter the leadership race. 

"Standby for heavy rolling. The gloves are off," Bennett tweeted several hours earlier on Friday as he prepared to launch his leadership bid. 

Bennett is the former leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador First Party, which fielded three candidates in the 2008 federal election. Bennett ran in Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, placing last in a field of four.

Former cabinet minister Shawn Skinner — who had been serious about a potential campaign — took himself out of the running on Friday. He is believed to be supporting Coleman. 

In the wee hours of Friday morning, Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Kent announced that he, too, would be staying out of the leadership race. 

Kent also threw his support behind Coleman, in an indication that the neophyte politician will receive the backing of other seasoned politicians. 

"In recent weeks, I have had numerous positive conversations with Mr. Frank Coleman," Kent said in a statement. "I believe that Frank is the leader we need right now. He has my full support."

Also on Friday morning, former Tory MHA John Ottenheimer announced he would not be seeking the leadership. 

Ottenheimer told CBC News that he had given serious consideration to the issue before coming to his decision. 

Coleman, who runs a chain of grocery stores bearing his family name, has not yet announced where he would like to take the party or the province, should he win the race and thus be sworn in as premier after a leadership convention in July. 

"I will have more to say next week when I officially launch my campaign," he said in a statement. 

"I am very excited about this new challenge in my life and I look forward to earning the confidence of the people of this great province."

Danny Williams factor

Coleman is believed to have the support of former premier Danny Williams, who caused a stir within the party in February when he said Bill Barry — the controversial seafood processor who became the first to step into the ring — would be a poor choice to lead the party. 

Barry, also a Corner Brook businessman, has promised to bring an outsider's approach to government, and has been blunt in his critical descriptions of government and bureaucracy.

He has denied Williams' suggestions that he intends to privatize key public services, particularly health care. 

Clarence Cantwell, 22, a gas station supervisor, had also indicated interest in running for the leadership.