A poll that says Nigel Farage will lose his bid to become an MP - something that would lead to him resigning as Ukip leader - has been dismissed by the party as a "rogue" finding based on methodology that was skewed against it.
The survey of voters in South Thanet - commissioned by wealthy donor Arron Banks who has pledged £1 million to the eurosceptic party - has only become public because it was published by the Mail on Sunday.
It showed the party leader on 29 points, one behind Tory candidate Craig Mackinlay and only one ahead of Labour's Will Scobie.
Farage has pledged to stand down as party leader if he does not win on May 7.
Conservative accusations that Ukip "tried to cover it up when they didn't like the results" were played down by a Ukip spokesman who said it had not been consulted by Banks over commissioning the research.
"It was not a Ukip commissioned poll so how could we suppress it?," the spokesman asked.
"ComRes use weighting to 2010 figures which we find risible given what has happened to the Ukip vote since then.
"The methodology is flawed as it asks not 'who would you vote for' but 'thinking of your local MP' which creates a false incumbency factor for Laura Sandys (who won the seat for the Conservatives in 2010 but has stood down).
"It redistributes people who say they're not going to vote or will be away back to Tories and Labour as per 2010 numbers."
No one in the party was "pretending this (winning the seat) is cut and dried", he said, pointing out that Farage was spending most of his time in the Kent constituency in a bid to ensure he was elected.
"No one is pretending we do not have work to do."
It came as Farage told the Sunday Times (£) he had spoken to "more than a handful" of Tories about them defecting to his party if David Cameron agreed a new coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats.
Nick Clegg would demand "wholly unacceptable" concessions over Cameron's promise of an in/out referendum by 2017 as the price of a deal, he suggested.
"There are Tory backbenchers who do not want a coalition again with Clegg under any circumstances and who privately would like Ukip to do quite well and win a number of seats," he told the newspaper.
"If Cameron comes back as prime minister in a coalition deal with Clegg and the terms of the referendum are on Clegg lines, not Farage lines, then you may very well see a more serious fracture in the Conservative party than you've seen thus far.
"You're beginning to see the Tory-Lib Dem coalition getting ready for a false referendum. That's why I think getting Ukip MPs is very important."
Asked how many more Tories might defect, Farage said: "I've always said there will be more than a handful and I stick to that."Suggest a correction