Things may be looking up for Marco Rubio.
Though he's struggled to break through the crowded, and loud, 2016 field after announcing his intention to run in April, there has been fresh buzz about his campaign since what many analysts saw as a stand-out performance at the Sept. 16 debate at the Reagan Library.
A Fox News poll released late Wednesday showed Rubio and Carly Fiorina tied for third place on the GOP side, each with 9 percent, behind Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson.
A CNN/ORC poll released earlier this week showed the Florida senator surging into 4th place with 11 percent – up from a meager 3 percent at the beginning of September. And he seems to be benefiting the most from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to drop out of the race Monday. The Wall Street Journal reported that Rubio will inherit about two-thirds of Walker’s big-donor fundraising apparatus, citing a member of Walker’s national finance committee.
“His chances have grown, his chances are growing. He’s part of a small group of candidates who really do have a shot,” Ron Bonjean, an unaligned Republican strategist, told FoxNews.com. “It’s still a long way away but he’s playing his cards right for now."
A number of key staff, including Walker’s New Hampshire state co-chairman, already have joined Rubio's campaign.
He is also beginning to pose a challenge to former front-runner and ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in their home state. A new Florida Atlantic University poll puts Rubio in second place, behind Donald Trump but in front of Bush.
However, so far, Rubio’s team has been cautious in getting carried away by recent good news.
“While it's always nice to see people responding well to Marco, the truth is that polls at this stage of the race are not indicative of who will win,” Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Rubio campaign, told FoxNews.com, adding that there are still four months to go before the first primary contest.
This muted response is all part of the strategy, Bonjean says: “Rubio has engaged in a chipaway strategy where he’s not trying to be the front-runner with the spotlight shining on him, but over the course of each debate and over time he’s building his foundation of support.”
However, as Rubio’s support and infrastructure expands, it seems unlikely he will be able to stay out of the spotlight for long. On Monday night, Trump took a shot at Rubio over his initial support and role in crafting the 2013 immigration reform bill, as well as his voting record in the Senate.
Trump also took a swing at Rubio’s alleged absenteeism in the Senate during the Reagan Library debate. And he's still a target of Democrats.
On Monday, the DNC attempted to stir up a “Nazi” controversy, pointing out that Rubio was attending a fundraiser at the home of developer Harlan Crow, who owns a signed copy of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf. However, several media organizations noted Crow has a wide range of historical memorabilia, including items that belonged to Abraham Lincoln. Republicans called the matter a "false controversy."
It wasn't the first time a critique of Rubio seemed to backfire. The New York Times was mocked in June for stories that reported on Rubio's finances and speeding tickets. In one front-page story, the paper reported about the Rubios’ “extravagant” purchases including an $80,000 speedboat, and leasing a $50,000 SUV. In one peculiar paragraph, the Times included the detail that a house Rubio bought in 2005 “includes an in-ground pool, a handsome brick driveway, meticulously manicured shrubs and oversize windows.”
The only recent public flub that seems to have stuck around was his decision to take an awkward sip of water during his response to the 2013 State of the Union address. But Rubio regularly pokes fun at himself over the incident.
Now, even some Democrats say Rubio could be a contender. “Presidential campaigns are -- yes they’re about messaging and policy -- but they’re also about symbolism, and what I think what Marco Rubio is doing is trying to present this positive image of an America that, in his belief we can all live in,” Basil Smikle Jr., executive director of the New York state Democratic Party told FoxNews.com LIVE.
“As long as he keeps presenting that image and that symbol of what America is and should be … then I think he has a winning message and narrative there,” Smikle said.
While cautious, the Rubio camp is showing quiet optimism about their chances.
“We have a strategy to be first in February, and we're on track to accomplishing that. Marco did very well in the first two debates, and it's a good thing for our campaign that we have 10 more debates,” Conant said.