Donald Trump is handily beating Marco Rubio in the Cuban-American Senator's own home state of Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.
The poll shows Trump ahead of Rubio 44 to 28 percent among likely Republican primary voters. After the top two slots, Sen. Ted Cruz is in a distant third with just 12 percent, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has 7 percent and Ben Carson has 4 percent.
"Florida is the single biggest prize of the primary season because it is the largest state to allocate its delegates on a winner-take-all basis. If Sen. Rubio can't win in his own home state, it is difficult to see how he can win elsewhere," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a statement.
The Florida primary contest will be held on March 15, with 99 delegates are at stake on the Republican side.
Rubio has emerged as Trump's main rival for the nomination despite the fact that the junior senator from Florida has yet to win a primary contest, while Trump has won three straight – New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – since Cruz won the Iowa caucuses.
Despite that, the Quinnipiac Poll found that Rubio is the choice of 54 percent, a majority of Republican likely voters, who believe the most important characteristic is selecting a candidate with the best chance of beating the Democratic nominee in November. The results are consistent with past polls that show Rubio as the most electable Republican candidate.
But campaign strategists believe Rubio has to win one or two states of the contests on Super Tuesday March 1, when a big portion of the South and and a smattering of other states vote, and then Florida.
Top strategists are urging Rubio to take a more aggressive approach against Trump.
"Campaigns are fights," former Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said to the Chicago Tribune. "And not fighting Donald Trump, not fighting the person that's winning, means you're fighting for second, third, fourth place."
Meantime the Rubio campaign is hoping to cash in on big time donors who had been supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, before he suspended his presidential campaign. However, some Bush donors have been slow to support Rubio.
Despite key commitments for Rubio from parts of Bush's vast fundraising network, others seem exhausted and disillusioned by what they thought was Bush's clear shot at the presidency, eclipsed by the rise and durability of the outsider Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported.