Rochdale Lib Dems believe Nick Clegg's popularity will rise further
Rochdale's Lib Dem candidate has claimed the "Clegg factor" could increase his slim majority and reassert the party's domination in the town.
Paul Rowen, who overturned Labour's 6,500 majority in 2005 and took the seat by 442 votes, said his leader's performance had convinced waverers.
The Labour candidate said the Lib Dems could not "hide" their poor local record behind Nick Clegg's popularity.
The Conservative candidate said Lib Dem voter "respect isn't there".
Rochdale was a Lib Dem stronghold for 25 years under Cyril Smith and Liz Lynne until the Labour landslide in 1997.
Mr Rowen said: "What I'm seeing in Rochdale is that people are fed up with Labour and not convinced by Cameron, but a lot of people have been impressed by Nick and are saying they'll vote Lib Dem."
He said he believed the Liberal Democrats' position would be strengthened further after today's second leaders' debate, centred on foreign policy.
An election will also be held for Lib Dem-run Rochdale Council on 6 May.
Labour candidate, Simon Danczuk, said: "He may be looking to a 'Clegg bounce' to act as a lifeline and hide his record but local people will not be fooled and do not see the Lib Dems as a force for change.
"They're not an unknown quantity with novelty value and they're very much part of a tired establishment that has let Rochdale down.
"His council has an appalling record here and has closed two care homes, cut small business support, neglected the town centre to the point that one in five shops now stand empty and introduced the biggest council tax rise in Greater Manchester."
Conservative candidate, Mudasir Dean said: "People in Rochdale do reminisce about Cyril Smith and there's a lot of respect for him, but that respect isn't there for Paul Rowen.
"The Liberal Democrats in Rochdale have introduced a 3.99% council tax hike and yet we're facing £150m cutbacks over the next three years.
"We've got 49 empty shops in the town centre because the Liberal Democrats have let Rochdale down and I can't see the Nick Clegg factor making a difference," said Mr Dean.
Mr Rowen said: "Rochdale Council has only been run by the Liberal Democrats for the last three years and in that time we have overseen a £2bn investment, so only a fool would believe we are responsible for running down the town."
• Candidates so far announced for Rochdale are: Conservative: Mudasir Dean; Labour: Simon Danczuk; Lib Dem: Paul Rowen.