Boris Johnson promised to give the UK its mojo back, while Jeremy Hunt insisted he could win over non-Tories as the two contenders to be the next prime minister clashed on TV.
In a head-to-head clash the two rivals for the Tory leadership set out their plans for Brexit and the future of the country.
Opening the ITV debate, campaign frontrunner Boris Johnson said he was the right person to “unleash on this project”, to deliver Brexit and “unite this country”.
But with an eye on the next general election, Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said he would be able to reach beyond Tory voters and secure the support of the wider country.
The next prime minister will be chosen by Tory members, with the result announced on July 23.
Mr Johnson said: “This country faces a momentous choice – we can either continue with the same old, failed, can-kicking approach, destroying trust in politics, sapping business confidence.
“Or else we can change, get back our mojo, restore this country’s reputation around the world and put ourselves on the path to long-term success.”
He vowed to get Brexit done by October 31, pledged more money for schools and police, and promised full-fibre broadband for all.
Mr Johnson said he would be able to take on the “semi-Marxist, wealth and job-destroying lunacy of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party”.
Mr Hunt promised to “deliver Brexit but so much more” if he won the keys to Number 10.
Highlighting his experience as an entrepreneur, the former health secretary and current Foreign Secretary said: “In poll after poll I am the public’s preferred choice for prime minister because I appeal not just to those who already vote Conservative but those we need to win.
“And to those watching at home, I will be your prime minister, whoever you vote for, as I bring together our amazing United Kingdom.”
Speaking after the debate in the ITV media centre, Rob Wilson – former Tory MP for Reading East and a parliamentary private secretary for Mr Hunt – said: “Hunt came out swinging and he landed some really powerful blows.
“I don’t think there was a knockout but it came close on a couple of times because clearly Boris wasn’t across the detail and relied too often on laughter and bluster which exactly confirmed what Jeremy Hunt has been saying through the campaign.”
He added that it was “too early” to say Mr Hunt was not going to triumph.
Mr Wilson said: “There is a still of lot of votes that need to go in and we will see what people think of tonight’s debate. I mean Boris from the start has been in the lead. That lead has closed gradually and we will just have to see what effect tonight has on the rest of the campaign.”
Jason McCartney, ex-Conservative MP for Colne Valley, said: “I think Boris came across very positively. He talked about having a plan to making sure we leave the EU by October 31. He talked about optimism, a can-do attitude for our country and also his plan to invest in education, invest in infrastructure and get 20,000 more bobbies out on the street.
“He certainly carried the room with him and I’m confident he will carry the country as well.
“He is just the positive prime minister our country needs … you could feel the positivity in the room and I know having been in Huddersfield this morning there is positivity from across the North and across the country as well.”