Diane James said she hopes to hold talks with the outgoing Ukip leader to decide how he will contribute in future, insisting he still has a role to play.
MEP Ms James is among five candidates vying to replace Mr Farage, who resigned shortly after tasting victory during June’s EU referendum.
But Mr Farage has not ruled out returning as leader if Brexit is not delivered.
He has quit and returned once before, in the space of a few days, following the 2015 general election.
Frontrunner Ms James told Murnaghan on Sky News: “Nigel has stood down, he’s given his reasons. I don’t intend being either Nigel-like or Nigel-lite, I’ve made that abundantly clear.
“Nigel has a role still to play in the future of Ukip.
“I’m hoping when I have the opportunity to discuss with him, and I want to have that discussion in the next few days, that we’ll be able to realise what sort of contribution he can make to the party in the coming months and certainly year, if not further into the future.
“But he’s the one person that really puts the fear of God, and I don’t mean to blaspheme for any moment, into some of the other politicians.
“The fact is that, for instance, the Lib Dems have had to go back to Nick Clegg to actually fight their aspect in terms of EU membership - and Nigel really, really did carpet Nick Clegg in those debates.
“So if we’re going to put big beasts up, I’m more than happy to deploy Nigel as long as he’s willing to do so.”
The winner of Ukip’s leadership contest is due to be announced at the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth on September 15.