U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has inched his way into second place as a potential 2016 Republican presidential primary candidate, placing only 3 percentage points behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Whats more, the Florida Republican is neck and neck with another familiar politician from the Sunshine State: former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The Zogby Analytics poll of 223 likely voters nationwide found Rubio trailing Romneys 16 percent by only 13 percent. Although the sample size is small, it still lends an energizing force to speculation that Rubio could be the second Floridian to contemplate a presidential bid.
Rubio himself has fueled rumors of a possible 2016 run in recent days. On Friday, he began preparations for an intense fundraising campaign at the Delano Hotel in Miami and then embarked on a weeklong fundraising tour in California.
In the poll breakdown, Rubio fared much better with female voters than other possible primary nominees. He received 22 percent of the women's vote among self-identified Republicans and conservatives, while other nominees like Romney walked away with only 14 percent of the same demographic.
Among men, however, Rubio has a lot of ground to cover. He only takes 4 percent of the vote among self-identified Republicans and conservative men, while Romney and Bush take 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
Republicans have significantly underperformed among single women during the last two presidential elections. The Zogby poll is an indication Rubio could be the GOPs answer to moving more of these female voters into the Republican column in 2016.
"It's huge and it's right at the moment where he's declaring that he's forming an exploratory committee," John Zogby said on Newsmax TV. "He can't get a better one-two punch kickoff than that.
Zogby added the poll indicates Rubio now has moved into the top tier of presidential hopefuls with two very seasoned politicians.
It means Rubio is a player, at least for now, he said.
The poll of 223 likely primary voters was conducted online Jan. 16-18 and has a sampling margin of error of +/- 6.6 percentage points.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email firstname.lastname@example.org follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.