Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's rivals have attacked the Texas governor as too inflammatory to appeal to mainstream voters, but a new poll shows just the opposite.

A newly released CNN/ORC International Poll indicates that Republican and right-leaning independent voters believe Perry is the candidate most capable of defeating President Barack Obama in a general election. They supported Perry over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by a margin of 30 percent to 18 percent, an endorsement that appeared to extend beyond the Tea Party bloc that has helped Perry surge to the top of the Republican field.

Perry's support comes mostly from Republicans who support the Tea Party movement, although he has a statistically insignificant edge among non-tea party Republicans as well, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland told CNN.

Voters also chose Perry as the stronger leader than Romney and said he was more likely to revive the flagging economy. Perhaps most significantly, 42 percent of respondents said Perry had the best chance of beating Obama, compared to 26 percent for Romney.

Perry's strong showing undercuts attempts by Republican opponents who've portrayed him as too extreme, from his call to abolish the Ponzi scheme of Social Security to his denial of the science behind evolution and climate change. The poll seemed to reflect a calculation by voters that a candidate's general election strength was the determining factor.

That may go a very long way toward explaining his rise in the polls, since three-quarters of all Republicans say they would prefer a candidate who can beat President Obama over one who agrees with them on major issues, said Holland.