CHRIS Huhne's disgrace is "in the past", the Conservative candidate battling to snatch his former Hampshire seat has declared.

Maria Hutchings made clear she would not seek to exploit his criminal wrongdoing for political advantage and promised a "clean campaign".

She spoke at the launch of what is expected to be a brutal battle with the party's Liberal Democrat Coalition partners. She made clear she was opposed to David Cameron's gay-marriage reforms and was strongly eurosceptic.

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Mrs Hutchings, who failed to topple Mr Huhne in 2010 by 3864 votes, has been picked to fight the seat again after the former LibDem energy secretary resigned as an MP in disgrace earlier this week.

Polling conducted by Tory former treasurer Lord Ashcroft, after Mr Huhne's dramatic guilty plea to dodging speeding points, gave the Conservatives a three-point lead. But after senior party figures highlighted the issue of voter "trust", he warned they should "not expect many to switch out of disgust".

Mrs Hutchings said: "We are running a clean campaign. I want to talk about the issues that affect the people of Eastleigh. I do not want to talk about Chris Huhne; that issue is in the past."

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, has urged voters not to exact retribution for his former leadership rival's disgrace in the February 28 poll.

The LibDems will choose their candidate later today.