09/21/2011 01:23 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

Gary Mar Builds Momentum In Race To Become Alberta Premier

CALGARY - A cabinet minister who supported one of the failed candidates in the race to become Alberta's next premier is the latest to back front-runner Gary Mar.

Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, who was on candidate Ted Morton's team prior to last weekend's first ballot vote, said Wednesday he'd be comfortable with Mar as the new Conservative leader.

"The elephant in the room? My candidate did not advance to the second ballot, so the last 72 hours have been very challenging for me," said Denis.

"I've decided to support Gary Mar because I believe Gary's particular political bent is most similar to mine and my record as well. Particularly what attracts me to Gary is the change that he's willing to offer for financial management bringing us to a balanced budget by 2013."

Mar, a former Alberta health minister and the province's former envoy to Washington, finished with 41 per cent support on the first ballot. So far this week he has received the blessing of his three rivals — Morton, Rick Orman and Doug Griffiths — who were all eliminated from the race Saturday night.

Former justice minister Alison Redford and former deputy premier Doug Horner remain on the second ballot. The party will pick a winner Oct. 1.

There have been suggestions from some party members, including Horner, that deals are being made in order to get people to support the Mar campaign. Mar said that is not the case.

"Rick Orman said it best during the leadership race itself. He said we make our cabinets after the leadership race is over, not before, and so I've made no representations to anybody, including Jonathan," said Mar.

Mar finished first in 52 out of 83 ridings and second in 29 others, but he isn't willing to assume he is a lock.

"I always remain in a state of high alert when it comes to campaigning. We've got our foot on the gas and we're not going to take it off," Mar said.

"We'll work hard right up until the poll closes at 7 o'clock on the 1st of October."