David Cameron has launched a furious attack on the BBC over claims the Tory candidate refused to take part in an Eastleigh by-election hustings.
The Prime Minister accused the corporation of behaving "badly and stupidly" over arrangements for Thursday morning's debate on Radio 5 Live.
The Conservatives said Maria Hutchings had been unable to face off against her Liberal Democrat, Labour and UK Independence Party (Ukip) opponents because she was visiting a factory with Mr Cameron.
Sources also complained that the party had only been told the exact timing of the hustings on Wednesday. The premier reacted angrily when pressed by a local BBC reporter on why Mrs Hutchings had not taken part.
"She was with me at a very important meeting in a business that's the sort of beating heart of Eastleigh employing hundreds of people and she's been doing hustings up and down the constituency," he shot back.
The reporter pointed out that he had been able to attend both events, with Mr Cameron replying sharply: "Well, you were a bit late."
"Maria has done hustings all over the constituency," Mr Cameron went on. "I think the BBC has behaved badly and stupidly about this from everything I've heard about what's happened, but she has been doing hustings.
"My understanding is that we were discussing with you for ages beforehand about the timing of the hustings and the fact that Maria wanted to be with me for this meeting."
Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron said: "The Tory candidate is clearly running scared." He added: "You have to ask why Cameron's Conservative machine keeps trying to hide her away."
Asked whether the Tories had been "hiding" Mrs Hutchings, the premier insisted: "We're not hiding her away, she's right here. This is a totally got-up thing by the BBC. You know you're not the most important thing in this by-election - the candidates are."