Old theory: Mitt Romney really doesn’t want to have to face Perry or Palin in this race. New theory: Mitt Romney really needs Perry and/or Palin to run to divide tea partiers and halt Bachmann’s ascent.

Her net favorable rating is now +40, up 20 points in just two months. In New Hampshire.

When PPP polled New Hampshire in April Michele Bachmann was stuck at 4%. She’s gained 14 points over the last three months and now finds herself within single digits of Mitt Romney. Romney continues to lead the way in the state with 25% to 18% for Bachmann, 11% for Sarah Palin, 9% for Ron Paul, 7% for Rick Perry and Herman Cain, 6% for Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, and 4% for Newt Gingrich.

Bachmann’s surge in New Hampshire is being built on the back of the Tea Party. Among voters identifying themselves as members of that movement she’s leading the way at 25% with Palin and Romney tying for second at 16%, and Cain also placing in double digits at 11%. Only 33% of Republican primary voters in the state identify themselves as Tea Partiers though and with the remaining folks Romney’s way ahead with 33% to 13% for Bachmann, and 10% for Huntsman and Paul.

Romney’s starting to show some signs of weakness in New Hampshire. His support is down 12 points from 37% on the iteration of our April poll that didn’t include Mike Huckabee or Donald Trump. His favorability numbers are headed in the wrong direction as well. He’s dropped a net 18 points from +49 at 68/19 to +31 at 60/29. He’s certainly still the front runner in the state but he’s not looking as inevitable as he did a few months ago.

Another poll from the University of New Hampshire has Romney ahead by a comfortable, more realistic 23-point margin, but even in that case, Bachmann’s crept into second place with 12 percent. I’m dying to know what she raised for the quarter to see how her haul compares to his, but her team’s holding off on releasing the numbers until July 15. His own numbers are both better and worse than they look. Better, in the sense that if you include the money raised by his super PAC, his quarterly take is closer to $30 million than it is to $18.25 million. And worse, in the sense that not long ago Team Mitt was hoping to raise — wait for it — $50 million in the first six months of 2011. No one’s going to hit him with the “underperformer” narrative until New Hampshire turns competitive, but it’s out there in the water. Lurking. With just a fin visible above the surface…

As for Pawlenty, he pulls just three percent in UNH’s poll (the same as Jon Huntsman, who’s nearly without a pulse in the new Gallup) and six percent in PPP’s poll while trailing Romney in a hypothetical head-to-head contest … by 34 points. Things suddenly look so bleak that T-Paw’s campaign co-chair has begun to lower expectations in Iowa, insisting that Bachmann will be “very hard to beat” there even though until recently the state was a cornerstone of his strategy to propel past Romney. Actual quote: “She’s got hometown appeal, she’s got ideological appeal, and, I hate to say it, but she’s got a little sex appeal too.” Ugh. Exit quotation from HuffPo’s Pawlenty premortem postmortem: “How does the sixth place candidate in the Iowa poll all of a sudden find support? Having been here so often, if folks haven’t decided to support him yet, will they now? … [It’s a] very tense and stressful situation over in Urbandale right now.”