Fox News First

Pick Six: Final countdown to GOP control of Senate

In this Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014 photo, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., arrives at a rally for campaign volunteers in Little Rock, Ark. and in this Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 photo, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a North Little Rock, Ark., news conference.

In this Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014 photo, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., arrives at a rally for campaign volunteers in Little Rock, Ark. and in this Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 photo, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a North Little Rock, Ark., news conference.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut
• Pick Six: The final countdown
• Two before six
• Three on the bubble
• The big reveal
• Yeah, but is he a likely voter

The data mafia has reached its conclusion: Republicans are very likely to get a net gain of six Senate seats on Tuesday (or at least by the Louisiana runoff on Dec. 6) and take the majority on the upper chamber. Probabilities range from 96 percent to 74 percent to 69 percent, but the general consensus is that the GOP will win enough toss-up seats to do the job. But how? That’s what we’ve been asking you since Jan. 2: What is the path of least resistance for Republicans, or, to put it another way, what is the most difficult suite of seats for Democrats to defend. After thousands of your emails and tweets, we’re ready to tell the tale and give you the latest tidbits on the key races. Rest assured, though, you impressed even the best experts with your collective insights.

Georgia slides right -
Before we get to the final six, though, remember that two of the closest races in the country are contests for Republican held-seats in Georgia and Kansas. Not only do we need to check in on those nail-biters, but also look at what lies beyond the top six since Republicans may need to offset a loss in Kansas or a delayed but still probable victory in Georgia where Republican David Perdue has a 2.2 point lead over Democrat Michelle Nunn in the Real Clear Politics Average of polls. The latest NBC/Marist Poll has Perdue leading 48 percent to 44 percent. Democrats’ best hopes in the Peach State are to hold Perdue under the 50 percent threshold Tuesday and force a contentious and costly runoff on Jan. 6. But in the closing days, holdout Republicans seems to have rallied to their nominee. Perdue is still shy of an outright win, but he’s moving in that direction.

[Byron York: “Now, on the eve of the election, Perdue is ahead again and is within reach of winning outright. For Democrats, winning Georgia was thrilling to consider, for a minute or two, but doesn't appear to be a reality.”]

Anybody’s guess in Kansas - One of the states Democrats are hoping to knock off a Republican incumbent is Kansas. While an early October Fox News Poll saw Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ahead by five points, the latest Fox News Poll shows an ever closer race. According to the survey,independent Greg Orman is nearly tied with Roberts 44 percent to 43 percent. The RCP average for the race only gives Orman a .7 percent advantage. But with a Democrat-backed independent and a Republican with base issues in a later-breaking race, this is really the wild west of prognostication.

[Watch Fox: Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen is in Kansas with the latest on the race.]

New Hampshire never got into contention in the Pick Six stakes, likely owing to it developing into a competitive contest late in the cycle. The state has a late primary and the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, was initially discounted by race watchers. But on the eve of the election, the race truly is a toss-up.  Hillary Clinton showed up in New Hampshire in a bid to boost embattled Sen. Jeanne Shaheen but the enthusiasm advantage seems to be on Republican challenger Scott Brown’s side over the weekend. Polling has been mixed of late with the latest WMUR/UNH Poll giving Shaheen a one point lead while the latest New England College Poll gives Brown a one point advantage. In the RCP average Shaheen holds a 1.4 point lead. If Tuesday night turns out to be wave election for the GOP, the earliest indications will come from the Granite State.

[“Scott Brown is running a typically focused campaign and the ‘Live Free or Die’ state will reward him for it.”—Fox News First reader Dan Hunt, Wisconsin.]

The three Senate races that were close to breaking into your final six picks are, appropriately, three of the closest calls for Tuesday, three where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in a barrage of overwhelming negative ads. Let’s take a look:

North Carolina - The Tar Heel State was one of the early six picks but has since moved in and out of the top tier, finally being edged out by Alaska. Republican Thom Tillis has been feverishly tying Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., to the unpopular policies of President Obama. Tillis has appeared to be successful in using that line of attack to blast Hagan for attending a fundraiser instead of a classified briefing on the Islamist group ISIS.  The latest Fox News poll finds a statistical tie with Hagan leading Tillis 43 percent to 42 percent. Could Michael Barone’s rule bury Hagan? The RCP average for the race has Hagan with only a 1.1 point advantage.

[“If the state is called early for Hagan, all is lost for the GOP nationwide.  If the state is called early for Tillis, it will be a tsunami election for the GOP.”—Fox News First Reader Chris Dodd, Cary, N.C.]

Iowa - The Hawkeye State has seen a surge of support of late as the most recent Des Moines Register Poll gives Republican Joni Ernst a 7-point lead over Democrat Bruce Braley. The state has been one Democrats are desperately trying to hold on to as they have dispatched Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton on numerous occasions. The potential 2016 field has been flocking to the state in support of Ernst. Handicapped by early blunders and a series of mistakes, Braley trails Ernst by 1.8 points in the RCP average.

[Watch Fox: Correspondent Shannon Bream in Iowa tracking the latest in this pivotal race for control of the U.S. Senate]

Power Play: Joni’s rules for winning – The star of the cycle for the GOP has been Joni Ernst. How does she see the race? Watch “Power Play with Chris Stirewalthere and find out.

[Ruh-roh - “I don’t care if [Joni Ernst] is as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.], she’s wrong for the state of Iowa., --Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, during a weekend rally for Iowa Democrats.]

Colorado - The focus on social issues does not appear to be working in favor of Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. In a recent Quinnipiac Poll, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., held a 7-point lead over Udall. The latest Denver Post Poll has Gardner ahead by 2 points. Still, worrying many on the right is Colorado’s new election law that opts for mail in ballots and permits same-day registration. But the NYT argues that Republican ground game seems to be getting the job done: “With more than 1.2 million ballots already recorded, registered Republicans hold a nine-point lead over registered Democrats. That’s even better for Republicans than in 2010. There are reasons to believe that the Democrats will close the gap. But the character of the returned ballots will have to change in fundamental ways for Mr. Udall to have a shot…Historically, the returns by this stage are fairly representative of the overall electorate.”

[“Mark Udall has hurt himself by merely focusing on the ‘war on women’, while Cory Gardner has been gaining steadily in the polls lately.”—Fox News First Reader Walter Jordaan, of the Netherlands]

“This midterm election, while overwhelmingly lining up in the Republicans’ favor, is by no means a lay-up for Republican control of the Senate.   For example, a new Quinnipiac poll today in Iowa has that race tied at 47-47 after a weekend that saw a Des Moines Register poll where Republican Joni Ernst was said to be up 7 and Democrat Bruce Braley was losing his own Congressional district by 3 points.   The point being: Republicans I have talked to are no longer ‘cautiously optimistic’ about their chances, they are outright frightened by each poll that shows them up.   With 2012 still fresh in their minds, they are desperately hoping Lucy doesn’t pull the football away again, in Charlie Brown parlance.   We should know early in the evening tomorrow how the night is shaping up, but with so many races within the margin of error, one thing is clear: there WILL be surprises. “ - Bret Baier.

The world of grammarians is palpitating over the new book by Steven Pinker, a psychologist and linguist, who argues that English has become too stuffy and rule-oriented and that rules are really “tacit conventions.” Given the ongoing assault on English as we text, tweet and instant message our way into oblivion, the argument that more laxity is what’s needed is counterintuitive, to say the least. The New Yorker’s Nathan Heller makes the case for maintaining a lingua franca for the sake of being understood across cultural boundaries. “…it is difficult to shake the suspicion that Pinker’s list of ‘screwball’ rules simply seeks to justify bad habits that certain people would rather not be bothered to unlearn. ‘Fewer’ versus ‘less’? Do whatever sounds good, Pinker says, but maybe favor ‘fewer,’ if you can, but not because ‘less’ is wrong. Good luck! Dangling modifiers? Pinker likes them, sometimes. (His criteria are too elaborate to be described.) He stresses the importance of matching usage to what feels ‘natural’ and intuitive. But natural and intuitive for whom? The kind of syntax that’s natural to kids growing up in a Maine bungalow isn’t the same as the syntax that feels natural in East New York.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 41.9 percent//Disapprove – 54.7 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 27.5 percent//Wrong Track – 65.8 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 43.3 percent// Republicans – 45.3 percent

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

And now, without further ado, here are you final picks for 2014…

Knocked out of the top tier earlier this midterm cycle by West Virginia and most recently by North Carolina, the Final Frontier has iced the sixth spot in the consensus of Fox News First Readers’ Pick Six with 9.1 percent of all votes. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent the weekend in Alaska rallying conservatives for Republican candidate Dan Sullivan and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will join Sullivan at a morning rally today.  Tuesday’s election will be a test of just how much the weight of President Obama’s unpopularity will put on Sen. Mark Begich’s, D-Alaska, attempt to keep his seat. Begich recently told the Washington Examiner, “The president’s not relevant. He’s gone in two years.” Republicans far outnumber Democrats in this red state and once-trailing Sullivan has surpassed Begich in the polls. Polling can be a difficult predictor in Alaska, but the RCP average gives Sullivan an advantage of 2.4 points.

[“As an Alaskan since1967 and lived through the growing up of now senator Mark Begich, using his deceased father's respected name to climb and use the mighty IBEW dollars to get this position, I can say he is a prime candidate for early retirement.”—Fox News First Reader Barbra Granger.]

Coming in at number five with 11.6 percent of reader votes is Louisiana. Although Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., leads by eight points in the latest NBC/Maris Poll, it does not seem likely the embattled Democrat, who has been running on her Washington clout even as she distances from President Obama, will reach a 50 percent threshold to avoid a December runoff. In a head-to-head much with Republican frontrunner David Cassidy, the same poll shows Cassidy ahead of Landrieu 50 percent to 45 percent. Landrieu is hoping early voting could help avoid a runoff. [New Orleans, La.,] The Advertiser: “More than 236,000 voters cast ballots through Louisiana’s early voting period — about 8 percent of the state’s 2.9 million registered voters. The ballot has generated stronger interest than the last midterm congressional elections in 2010, when only 125,000 voted early. About 64 percent of early voters were white, while 32 percent were black, proportional to their makeup among registered voters overall. Democrats and Republicans turned out in higher numbers than voters without a party affiliation.”

[“I’m from Louisiana and definitely see a Cassidy/Landrieu runoff with Cassidy prevailing.” –Fox News First Reader Casey Levy.]

Fox News First readers don’t see a Democratic face emerging in the Senate from the Rushmore State and place South Dakota fourth on the Pick Six list with 12.1 percent of reader votes. After ramping up their efforts amidst a shaky poll that appeared to show a tightening race, Democrats have seen their prospects fizzle. As of last week, both major parties significantly pulled back their advertising spending, as most recent polling shows a drop in support for independent Larry Pressler to the advantage of former Gov. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. The former Republican governor holds a 12.2 point advantage over Pressler and Democrat Rick Weiland in the RCP average.

[“South Dakota is a lock with Mike Rounds in the race.” –Fox News First reader Paul Ruby]

Powering to the number three spot with 12.4 percent of readers’ Pick Six votes, the Mountaineer State Senate contest has been dominated by energy issues. President Obama’s 25 percent approval rating in the coal-rich state - where his energy policies are highly unpopular - has been no help to Democrat Natalie Tennant. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has lumped her opponent in with those anti-coal policies, forcing Tennant has use dramatic measures to disconnect from the White House. Tennant, in turn, has accused of Capito of personally benefitting from insider information while sitting on a congressional banking committee. In the RCP average, Capito commands a 16.6-point lead and looks poised to become the first woman West Virginia will send to the Senate.

[“Shelly Moore Capito has been waiting in the wings for this seat to open up for years, carefully nurturing her reputation throughout the state until the seat opened up.  If ever a Republican successfully painted herself as the natural successor, it’s her. –Fox News First Reader Bryan Fisher]

Perhaps Fox News First readers had a notion early on that the blue team might just outsmart itself in Montana, which took the number two spot in votes with 13.1 percent. Democrats’ crafty plan to give an incumbent boost to freshly-minted Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont.,came crashing down when Walsh was forced to drop out of the race over an ugly plagiarism scandal. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., consistently strong in red state Big Sky territory, has been coasting over Walsh’s replacement, left of left Democratic State Rep. Amanda Curtis. Daines currently has an 18-point lead in the RCP average.

From the early days of Pick Six, Arkansas has consistently led the pack as the top choice of Fox News First readers and ends up number one with 13.8 percent of all votes. And there’s good reason: The state has moved deeper into the GOP column throughout the tenure of Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who has been tagged as one of, if not the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent. Pryor seemed to defy that label briefly this spring, but a small lead quickly gave way to a series of gaffes and the strength of Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. According to the latest RCP average, Cotton holds a seven-point plus advantage. Even Democratic digital pro, Joe Trippi agrees Pryor is “done.” Trippi told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, “I think all the people on both sides agree that one has slipped away.” While former President Bill Clinton was back in his home state Sunday to lend him a hand, Pryor has acknowledged just how much being glued to President Obama has hurt him. “Well, you know, he has been a drag. I mean, I am just going to be honest about that,” the incumbent Democrat told Fox news Senior National Correspondent John Roberts.

[“I don’t think there is any way the Clintons are going to save this one for Mark Pryor -- Tom Cotton is a great candidate.” –Fox News First Reader Jerry James.]

According to Sasquatch aficionados, the species of man-apes tends sticks to its Pacific Northwest stomping grounds. But the small town of Fouke, Ark., which borders Texas and Louisiana, boasts its own cryptozoological creature on the banks of Boggy Creek. While sightings have been reported as early as the 1930s, the Fouke Monster became legend  in 1971 when two families vacationing in a remote cabin claimed they were attacked by a 7-foot tall, 300-pound bipedal creature, which they described as being covered in reddish-brown fur. Using their hunting rifles the family was able to scare off the beast but not before it sent 25-year-old Bobby Ford to the hospital with animal-like scratches upon his back. As legend has it, when police investigated the scene, they saw claw marks on the porch and including an odd, three-toed footprint in the area. Still, no hard evidence of the creature was ever found. Local advertising salesman Charlie Pierce was so intrigued the folklore he borrowed $100,000 from a local trucking company to produce the 1972 feature The Legend of Boggy Creek. The film included interviews and footage of authentic Fouke Monster eye-witnesses, as well as reenactments of sightings.  Credited for inspiring the Blair Witch Project, the film brought in over $20 million in box office receipts.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News.  Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

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Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.