For the past sixteen months, I have called Rick Perry a potential gamechanger in the Republican primary, and a new poll by Rasmussen confirms it.  In a survey taken yesterday of 1000 likely GOP primary voters nationwide, Perry has leapfrogged to the head of the pack, eleven points past Mitt Romney:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, the new face in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has jumped to a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann with the other announced candidates trailing even further behind.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary voters, taken Monday night, finds Perry with 29% support. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, earns 18% of the vote, while Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who won the high-profile Ames Straw Poll in Iowa on Saturday, picks up 13%.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who was a close second to Bachmann on Saturday, has the support of nine percent (9%) of Likely Primary Voters, followed by Georgia businessman Herman Cain at six percent (6%) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with five percent (5%). Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and ex-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman each get one percent (1%) support, while Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter comes in statistically at zero.

Interestingly, Perry isn’t the only choice that gained significant strength from Rasmussen’s last poll two weeks ago.  The number of undecideds rose from 9% to 16% — and they obviously did not come from the Perry ranks.  Romney lost four points and Bachmann three in the last two weeks, Cain three points, and Paul one point.  Perry’s entry has some previously committed voters rethinking their choice.

Let’s take a look at the internals of this poll.  Perry scores highest among men (32%) and women (25%) than any of his competitors.  Ron Paul scores best among young voters by a wide margin (29%), but Perry is the only other candidate in double digits (17%).  Perry wins all of the other age demographics, and he also scores highest among Republicans (29%) and non-Republicans (28%). Perry also wins every income demographic, above the $40K level with 31% or more of the vote.

On ideology, the Texas governor has wide appeal.  Perry gets a full third of self-identified conservatives, beating Romney (16%) and Bachmann (14%) combined.  Romney narrowly edges Perry among moderates (27/25) and wins clearly among liberals, but Perry still comes in second, 24/15.  He wins easily among Tea Party “members” with a whopping 39% to Bachmann’s second-place finish of 21%.  Perry also wins among non-Tea Party members over Romney, albeit narrowly at 27/24, and has a clear victory among those unsure of their Tea Party affiliation. 24/13 over Romney.

Granted, this is a first-blush poll.  Perry has yet to be tested on the grand stage for more than a few days, and his solid 69/18 favorability ratio may take a couple of hits in the campaign.  These results, however, show two problems for the rest of the field.  First, Perry is indeed a game changer — and second, they have spent the last couple of months making primary voters looking for something more.