Sen. Marco Rubio’s splashy presidential-campaign announcement and his subsequent media blitz has likely helped him catch up with friend and former mentor Jeb Bush in their home state of Florida, according to a new poll of 400 registered Republican voters.

Rubio garnered 31 percent support from Republicans and essentially tied Bush’s 30 percent, according to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey conducted Tuesday through Thursday and shared exclusively with POLITICO. The other likely and announced presidential candidates polled in the single digits and 17 percent were undecided…

The poll is significant because it indicates Bush might be weaker than expected in Florida, a firewall state for the former governor who had good poll numbers when he left office in 2007. Bush served two, four-year terms.

Less than a week after announcing his 2016 campaign for president, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida doesn’t need to worry about money.

It’s as good as in the bank.

“Marco Rubio will have the resources necessary to run a first-class campaign, that’s already been determined,” said billionaire Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, a former Jeb Bush supporter who is now one of Rubio’s highest-silhouette donors…

At least seven other Rubio mega donors say their candidate has already received monetary commitments in excess of the $40 million he will likely need to battle through a presidential primary season that will feature a crowd of seasoned Republican candidates with strong financial backing.

As Rubio spoke to attendees in a hallway after the speech in January, a woman approached him. “I just wanted to tell you that my husband had tears in his eyes throughout your speech,” she said. After Rubio thanked her politely, she grabbed his arm to emphasize the point. “You should know, I haven’t seen him with tears in his eyes for years.”…

He’s the best communicator in the Republican party—and probably in American politics today. Beyond his abilities as an orator, Rubio’s performance in the debates during his 2010 bid for the Senate demonstrated his ability to think on his feet. He’s conversant on a wide variety of policy issues and has a wonk-level understanding of the national security issues sure to be at the center of the 2016 race. (Three years ago, Rubio answered questions from foreign policy scholars and journalists in an off-the-record session after a speech he gave at the Brookings Institution. Several later commented that they were impressed by his detailed knowledge of the subject matter and the depth of his answers.)…

Many top Republican donors see in Rubio the same qualities that led Romney to consider putting him on the ticket. And Rubio will have plenty of money for his own campaign. In the two weeks leading up to Rubio’s announcement, as it became clear that he would run, three unaligned Republican fundraisers told me that they’d seen interest in Rubio growing among high-dollar GOP donors. By all accounts, that shift accelerated last week. “They are buzzing about Marco in a way I haven’t seen in a long time,” says one top GOP fundraiser not aligned with any candidate who had previously expressed skepticism about a Rubio bid. “There’s an excitement and enthusiasm about him that surprises me.” Another top Republican fundraiser tells me that the Conservative Solutions PAC, the super-PAC supporting Rubio’s candidacy, has at least three donors who have pledged $10 million or more to back their efforts. One of them, Norman Braman, former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, has a net worth just short of $2 billion according to an estimate by Forbes. “If he feels like Marco is competitive, the checkbook will stay open,” according to a GOP strategist familiar with his thinking. 

Bush allies have started quietly spreading negative information about Rubio’s record. Also, supporters of the two Miami politicians are drawing contrasts between Rubio, a 43-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, and 62-year-old Bush, a member of one of the nation’s most powerful political dynasties…

As Bush tries to convince Republicans of his conservative credentials, supporters are asserting that as governor, he was far more conservative than Rubio when both held prominent state posts. Rubio served as Florida House speaker in the two years immediately after Bush left the governor’s mansion…

“Bush was more conservative,” said U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who served in the Legislature with Rubio and while Bush was governor, and now supports Bush…

Former state Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas, who also worked with both men and now backs Bush, made a similar point. “There were always projects that were important to Marco’s constituents,” he said. “And they always ended up in the budget.”

First, moderate conservatives could swing from Jeb Bush to Rubio. This is a pretty obvious scenario: Bush is (very) arguably the frontrunner overall, his entry into the race was thought by a lot of people to preclude a Rubio run, and he and Rubio have enough in common (both Floridians, both looked upon favorably by the party’s machers, both aiming for a similar mobility-oriented pitch on economics) that it’s easy to imagine that their fates are closely linked. Right now the two aren’t all that far apart in the national polls — Bush is “leading” the field with around 16 percent in the RealClearPolitics average, while Rubio is around 7 percent — and there’s no reason to think that Bush has any kind of hammerlock on moderate-conservative support. That support, historically, tends to take cues from the party apparatus, from mainstream as well as conservative media coverage, and from perceived electability. So the more Jeb struggles to establish any kind of clear lead or to demonstrate that his organizational prowess cashes out in votes, the more opportunity there is for Rubio to woo the media with his time-for-a-change narrative, to siphon off support in the invisible primary and to persuade potential Jeb supporters that he’s actually the better bet … with the endgame in this scenario probably being a New Hampshire win that catapults him into the pole position for Florida and beyond.

Alternatively, Rubio could gain ground relative to Jeb by siphoning support from some of the more conservative candidates in the race. There are various ways this might happen, but the most likely path would involve some movement of social conservatives, evangelical and Catholic and even Mormon (cue the Romney endorsement!), away from candidates like Cruz and Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson and toward the Florida senator. I’m not imagining Rubio peeling away the most conservative of these voters (the ones who really want Ted Cruz’s dad to run for president, for instance), but he has both the record and the rhetoric to win over some of them — younger evangelicals perhaps especially — and right now he seems more comfortable and fluid on issues related to faith, social issues, and religious liberty than either Scott Walker or a Rand Paul. Every campaign season there’s talk about how the religious right is going to unite around a single candidate and finally show the establishment what’s what, and every campaign season that doesn’t come to pass. But for religious conservatives who do want to vote strategically, Rubio might end up seeming like a better bet than Walker (who I suspect is going to be strongest among more secular conservatives) and the various unelectable others, and a savvy Rubio campaign might be able to take advantage of that potential appeal to run more strongly than anyone expects in Iowa (where 25 percent could win the caucuses again), and use that showing as his springboard rather than pushing all the campaign’s chips in on New Hampshire.

Rubio has been in the Senate for a little more than four years. During this time, his only major accomplishment was sponsoring and helping to pass (in the Senate) comprehensive immigration reform, which included amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

This is the essence of Rubio’s record. Sure, he cast plenty of good votes. But his votes don’t distinguish him appreciably from his rivals, most of whom either did or would have voted the same way on virtually everything except immigration reform…

Rubio is the only serious contender (I don’t consider Lindsey Graham serious) who (1) reached across the aisle to collaborate on amnesty/path to citizenship legislation, (2) was rolled by Chuck Schumer and company into sponsoring a bill he no longer stands behind, and (3) helped smear key opponents of his legislation and, when called on this, did not disavow the smear.

A president will have to work with Democrats at times. Personally, I want a president who, when appropriate, is willing to do so. But I want that president to outmaneuver, or at a minimum hold his own with, the Democrats he works with. And I don’t want that president to demonize those in his own party who question the fruits of his collaboration with Democrats.

Of all three candidates’ announcements, Rubio’s was the purest embodiment of the Obama caricature. It was all words. Even Obama, in his announcement speech, made a go at trying to explain how he would reach the bipartisan promise land he was outlining. 

This tells us something about the enduring power of the rhetorical ability that got President Obama elected. Despite the derision about a candidate and a president who is all talk, words and the images Rubio conjures are essential to his campaign. (You don’t make your opening pitch with your weakest stuff.)…

A campaign announcement can’t be all things, and the lack of policy is obviously not because Rubio doesn’t have any policy ideas. He has delivered more detailed presidential policy than any other candidate and is making that a big element of his campaign: new solutions for a new generation. Unlike a candidate like Gov. Scott Walker, who promises boldness but has yet to offer much that is bold, or Paul, whose call for term limits and a balanced budget amendment is recycling ideas that have been around for decades, Rubio is promising newness and has a series of actual ideas that are new. The unanswered question for the Florida senator is how he can use more than mere rhetoric to achieve all of the policy ideas he has.

I don’t think Rubio’s low poll numbers are a reason he can’t win, but I do think they suggest that he’s not some exceptional candidate who resonates strongly with the Republican rank and file. He’s not a stealth candidate, and in today’s digital age I think we’d expect exceptional candidates to break out quickly. Obama already had 25 percent at this point eight years ago.

Scott Walker gave one speech and suddenly found himself at 15 percent in national polls. He’s offering what a big chunk of Republican voters want. Rubio’s not really offering any segment of the party anything, and so he’s broadly acceptable but no one’s first choice…

Rubio’s conservative, but he’s not — to borrow from Hillary — their champion. These guys want someone who’s going to fight the fight — like Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, like Ted Cruz in the shutdown — and Marco Rubio just isn’t that guy. Could he connect with voters like Obama? Sure. But I just think we’d see more evidence of it by now.

If you’re a conservative who wants consensus and a more inclusive message, you have Jeb Bush, who melds Rubio’s potential appeal to Latino voters (his wife is Mexican, and he speaks fluent Spanish) with executive experience, fundraising prowess, and the all the benefits (and burdens) of the Bush name.

Likewise, if you want a more aggressive choice—someone with the chops it takes to beat Democrats and advance a conservative agenda—you have Walker, the right-wing, more grassroots alternative to Bush, who has some of Rubio’s youth—he’s just six years older than the junior senator from Florida—but with much more experience. If you’re a conservative evangelical eager for a champion, there’s Cruz (and potentially Mike Huckabee), and if you want a more libertarian choice, there’s Paul. Rubio may appeal to every base, but every base is already covered.

His only hope is for those candidates—and Bush and Walker in particular—to tear themselves apart. For them to wound each other, make fatal mistakes, and eventually open the space for a viable alternative. It’s a version of Sen. John McCain’s strategy in 2008, and it’s Rubio’s best chance for the nomination. It’s also unlikely, and even if it happened, he would have to pounce and take the moment as soon as it appeared, which—as evidenced by the long-list of almost candidates and one-time hopefuls—is incredibly difficult.

But if there’s anything Rubio excels at, it’s precisely that.

[I]f there is one candidate who is the anti-Hillary, it is Marco Rubio…

[T]he Republican Party’s single biggest predicament is that it is perceived as no longer caring about the concerns of the middle class. In this respect, Rubio is exactly the sort of candidate the party needs: a true conservative who nonetheless understands the GOP’s greatest weakness. His ambitious reforms — his tax plan and its child tax credit, his wage subsidies plan, his proposals for higher education — are all aimed squarely at this problem, as is his opportunity rhetoric. On both the politics and the merits, this is the right response.

Voters aren’t stupid. Convincing them that the GOP cares about the middle class will require more than a better bumper sticker or a better slogan. In 2012, Mitt Romney couldn’t even say “middle class” without blinking, but that’s not why people didn’t buy what he was selling. To reverse the party’s biggest problem, the GOP must nominate a candidate who doesn’t just talk a good game but actually puts forward and prioritizes actual policies to help the middle class. Rubio has done that.

Rubio ticks all the right boxes for the party. He is hawkish enough for the hawks. He is pro-business and pro-immigration enough for The Wall Street Journal editorial board. He is pro-life and religious enough for the populist right. He is talented at selling the Republican platform as common-sense, inclusive Americanism. In March, a Pew Research Center survey found that 55 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they could see themselves supporting Rubio. Only 14 percent said Rubio had no chance to win them. Rubio doesn’t have a natural ceiling.

Rubio also can check “Hispanic” on forms honestly, unlike Bush. It’s very likely that the story of nominating Rubio can gain momentum as a positive one for the Republican Party as a whole, just as the story of Barack Obama’s campaign became a larger one about his party and the nation itself. The United States has undergone (and continues to undergo) the greatest wave of immigration in its history. It would be natural for the son of Cuban immigrants (who pre-date and foreshadow the post-1965 wave) to become the symbol of America’s future. The Republican Party needs to find ways to grow, and Rubio will give the party a story about how it can do so.

In other words, Rubio is possibly the best ideological fit for the Republican Party today, or at least running even with Scott Walker. But rooting for Rubio is going to feel good for Republicans. It will feel like rooting for the universality of your principles, and for the future of your nation.