The self-described outsider in the race to become leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives claimed first place in all-important membership sales after Saturday's cut off deadline.
Barrie MP Patrick Brown, the only one of the three candidates not to have a seat in the legislature, said he sold 40,410 new PC memberships, a figure confirmed by a party source speaking on background because no official tallies had been completed from the "bulk submissions" from each campaign.
"I am humbled by the support of the tens of thousands of Ontarians who bought a membership from our campaign," Brown said in a release.
London-area MPP Monte McNaughton's campaign said it sold "a little less than 20,000" new memberships, but the source put the figure at closer to 6,000.
Deputy PC leader Christine Elliott did not report any sales figures in a statement issued after the period for signing up new members ended, but the party source estimated her sales at 13,000.
Elliott said final numbers that eventually will come from PC headquarters will show she has "widespread support" across the province.
"I am confident the final numbers to be released by the party in coming days will reflect the momentum my campaign has built so far," she said.
The party may not release official results — and a preliminary voters' list — for more than a month.
Every PC member will be eligible to vote for the new leader in May, so candidates tried to sell as many $10 memberships as possible. People as young as 14 were eligible to become PC members.
The voting will be weighted so each of the province's 107 ridings gets 100 points in total, so where the memberships were sold can be just as important as how many.
The Tories had about 100,000 members in the early 2000s, but were down to just 10,000 when they lost their fourth consecutive election last June. Adding in all the bulk submissions, existing members and people who sign up directly on line, the Tories estimate they have 70,000 members.
"That reverses a trend from two previous leadership races when the number of members fell," said the source.
"Neutral" officials were reviewing the memberships reported by each campaign to ensure all required information is in place and that duplications are eliminated, and the preliminary voters' list will be released by April 3, said PC party president Richard Ciano in a statement.
Elliott, who placed third in the 2009 leadership race won by Tim Hudak, was way ahead in fundraising, reporting $620,000 in donations as of Friday, compared with $197,000 for Brown, while McNaughton was a distant third with only $77,000 reported to Elections Ontario.
Hudak resigned shortly after last year's election defeat, the second under his stewardship, when the Liberals were returned with a majority government.
PC party members across the province will vote for the new leader on May 3 and 7, using preferential ballots, with the results to be announced at a convention in Toronto on May 9.