GOP presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio reportedly is in prime position for a possible surge to the top in New Hampshire.
The Florida senator has muscled into second place in four of five recent polls in the early primary voting state, an averaging of the surveys by Real Clear Politics shows; the exception is a Public Policy Polling survey that has Rubio in third place, behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
The state's primary is Feb. 9.
"All year, in primary polling, what has been striking to me is the gap between the number of voters who said they would actually choose Rubio, which tended to be low, and Rubio's net favorability, which always tended to be high," Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, tells The Hill.
"I think the net favorability was an encouraging sign and we are starting to see that play out now."
Rubio's steady gains in New Hampshire polling averages — he's around 12 percent, up from 7 percent two months ago and 10 percent last month — have come at the expense of retired pediatric surgeon Ben Carson, who's numbers are fading
, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose support is down to 7 percent.
The Hill reports Rubio has upped his stump appearances lately, visiting New Hampshire 16 times as of Friday. But that lags behind Bush and front-runner Donald Trump, who've both logged 20 visits each, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, with 23 appearances, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with a leading 33 visits, The Hill reports.
"We've always believed that Marco can do very well in New Hampshire, and voters there will see him a lot in coming weeks," his communications director Alex Conant tells The Hill.
"Our TV ads began running in New Hampshire earlier this week, and we have several trips scheduled."
But one unnamed Republican strategist tells The Hill the late start in Rubio's attention to the Granite State might hurt him.
"Rubio might be the alternative to Trump that [New Hampshire] voters will want, but it's too soon to know that," the strategist says.
"He has still spent less time here — a lot less time — than virtually any other candidate, with the exceptions of [retired pediatric surgeon Ben] Carson, [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee and [former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick] Santorum. When he eventually undergoes a tough spell, it will be much harder to him to sustain his support."
And the still-large GOP field is not helping, the source adds.
"One of the same things that plagues Bush, Christie, Kasich, [Carly] Fiorina and anyone running (more or less) in the so-called 'establishment' lane is also plaguing Rubio," the source tells The Hill.
"They are all diluting the anti-Trump vote, and cannibalizing each other's support, and that is unfortunate for the Republican Party as a whole."
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