Oh my: Perry 41, Romney 12, Paul 11, Bachmann 9

I know, I know: It’s a Zogby poll. But c’mon. I had to blog it. Just because I knew that headline would rock your world.

He’s not leading by this much. But he is leading, comfortably.

If you believe Zogby, Michele Bachmann had a 20-point lead on the competition back on June 30th, which pretty well sums up the credibility of this one. The broader trends do make sense, though — Perry’s entry into the race devastated his tea-party competitors and stole a few points from Romney while leaving Ron Paul and his worshipers basically untouched. (An interesting footnote: Romney still polls slightly better head-to-head against Obama (45/40) than Perry does (46/44).) Nor is this the only good poll for Perry today. Gallup’s new measure of “positive intensity” shows he’s gained a few points there too and now leads all current candidates by double digits except for Herman Cain, who’s become a nonfactor. No surprise, then, to hear that Mitt has suddenly reconsidered and decided to participate in DeMint’s South Carolina forum after all; he simply can’t afford the “above the fray” strategy anymore. Says John Ellis, “Once Labor Day has passed, there will be five debates, in quick succession, on the GOP presidential candidates’ calendars. These will be important tests for Perry. If at the end of two or three, it’s clear that he’s every bit the equal of Mitt Romney on matters of policy and politics, then the Perry juggernaut becomes all but unstoppable.” Could be, which is why Romney will no longer cede any campaign territory to him. He needs to stop this advance now.

Don’t despair, though, Mitt fan(s). Perry’s allegedly not a dynamite debater, and of course Palin might still get in and bleed tea-party votes from him. And then there’s this, which will affect campaign branding in all sorts of ways:

Looks like it’s a little more popular to be a liberal or a progressive these days, although conservative remains the best political label you can put on a candidate for public office. Being linked to the Tea Party is the biggest negative…

Considered a positive political label by 29%, 43% now think Tea Party is a negative description for a candidate. That’s a net rating of negative 14, making it the worst thing you can call a candidate. Twenty-three percent (23%) put it somewhere in between…

The partisan divided on the Tea Party label is perhaps predictable: 56% of Republicans see it as a positive, while 70% of Democrats think it’s a negative. Voters not affiliated with either party also now regard Tea Party as a negative label by a 42% to 25% margin.

Which far left, conservative-hating pollster is responsible for those numbers? Why … Scott Rasmussen. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the tea party’s numbers plunge lately either. Polls from Pew and CNN shortly after the debt-ceiling deal found the movement’s unfavorables up sharply. It’ll be fascinating to see how Romney handles that in the primary, knowing that the “tea party” label is still a net plus for Republicans but a net minus in the general election. Can he make an electability argument against a tea-party nominee, or is that too risky lest he alienate core conservatives whom he’ll need against Obama on election day?