By politics.co.uk staff
Simon Hughes is thought to be winning the contest to succeed Vince Cable as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The former party president is believed to have won the support of a majority of the party's 57 MPs, a member of his campaign team told Reuters.
Nominations close today for the post, which became available after business secretary Dr Cable said he wanted to focus all his attention on "the job in hand".
Lib Dem backbenchers will be given an opportunity to choose a figure standing apart from the coalition government in the vote, which takes place at a meeting of the parliamentary party on June 9th.
Mr Hughes has a track record of failure in major Lib Dem elections, having lost leadership bids to both Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell.
His credentials on the left of the party mean he is more likely to succeed in a position where many grassroots activists believe he will be able to retain the party's identity away from its governing coalition with the Conservative party.
His challenger, Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, has frontbench experience with the environment portfolio and is viewed as a popular figure within the party.
And in a huge boost to his campaign he secured the support of energy secretary Chris Huhne this afternoon.
"Tim Farron has the passion, experience and energy to be highly effective as deputy leader," he said.
"Working alongside Nick Clegg, Tim will help communicate our message for a greener and fairer society to a new generation of Liberal Democrats."
But Dr Cable has backed Mr Hughes' candidacy. "Simon has given the most phenomenal service to the party over his 27 years as an MP," the business secretary said.
"He represents the best traditions of the Liberal Democrats, both as a parliamentary campaigner and community activist.
"Simon is the person best placed to follow me as deputy leader and uphold the values of our party."
Announcing his candidacy last week, Mr Farron said: "Whether or not I'm successful, I hope my candidacy for this senior position will bring greater influence to help strengthen and protect local services in South Lakeland."