(CNN) - It's a whole new ballgame in the political battle for the Republican Senate nomination in Florida, according to a new poll.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday morning indicates that former State House Speaker Marco Rubio leads Gov. Charlie Crist 47 percent to 44 percent in a GOP primary matchup. Rubio's 3-point advantage is within the poll's sampling error, but regardless, this is a major change from last year, when Crist led Rubio by 15 points in October, 29 points in August, and 31 points in June, according to Quinnipiac surveys.
The poll indicates that Rubio, who has the backing of many on the right, tops Crist when it comes to trust, values, and conservative credentials.
"Who would have thunk it? A former state lawmaker virtually unknown outside of his South Florida home whose challenge to an exceedingly popular sitting governor for a U.S. Senate nomination had many insiders scratching their heads. He enters the race 31 points behind and seven months later sneaks into the lead," says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "And, the horse race numbers are not a fluke. Rubio also tops Crist on a number of other measurements from registered Republicans, who are the only folks who can vote in the primary. Rubio's grassroots campaigning among Republican activists around the state clearly has paid off."
According to the survey, Crist tops Rep. Kendrick Meek of south Florida, the leading Democratic candidate, 48 percent to 36 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup. Rubio leads Meek 44 percent to 35 percent.
Forty-nine percent of people questioned disapprove of the job Barack Obama's doing as president, with 45 percent approving. That's a switch from October, when 48 percent approved of Obama's performance in the White House, with 46 percent disapproving.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted January 20-24, with 1,618 Florida voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
Asked about the Quinnipiac University poll Tuesday, Crist pointed to the difficult economic times.
"These are tough times, and for any leader it's challenging to lead in difficult times but we're going to keep doing it and keep fighting for the people and stay focused on that task. And whatever it takes to try and turn around this economy, that's what we're going to be focused on," said Crist.
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report
Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn