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Buzz Cut:
• 2016 GOP Power Index: No news is good news for Cruz
• Hillary: ‘Real person,’ real panicked
• Hillary now underwater in home state poll
• Acid test for Boehner, McConnell
• Like, how big of a spider are we talking about?

2016 GOP POWER INDEX: NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS FOR CRUZ
Ask yourself who is likely to be the last anti-Jeb still standing on Super Tuesday. That doesn’t mean whether Sen. Marco Rubio or Gov. John Kasich might knock Jeb Bush off in the early going (they might) or whether Bush could be abandoned by donors and key backers if he doesn’t have an early state win (he could).

The question is: Who is the person most likely to be Bush’s chief adversary going into the home stretch, if the establishment frontrunner makes it there?

Ted Cruz might have sounded like a wild idea just six weeks ago, but no longer, thanks to a combination of frontrunner Donald Trump’s redefinition of what wild looks like and Cruz’s disciplined, diligent and well-funded candidacy.

As Trump’s bad week demonstrated, his chances to outlast Cruz look rather in doubt.

Trump has been essentially kiting controversies like people used to kite checks – beginning or embracing a new one before the bill for the old one comes due. One of the reasons Trump hasn’t had to apologize for what would kill other candidates, is that he can get the press pack yapping about something new.

That looks to be different with the birther issue raised last week by a supporter at a New Hampshire town hall. Trump refused on Sunday to answer questions about his own views on the charge that Obama is a secret Muslim who was born outside of the United States.

It’s a pickle. If he goes with the herd and accepts the president’s stated faith and nativity, he will look to be caving in in the eyes of supporters who agree with the questioner’s premise. If he says he agrees with the questioner’s premise, even in part, he is foreclosing the chance to be the party’s nominee.

Trump will need one helluva controversy to blow past this one. Trump has been somewhat helped by Ben Carson’s unambiguous stance that he wouldn’t support a Muslim candidate for president, but certainly not sufficiently to eliminate the lingering questions about Trump’s birtherism. Carson’s second sojourn in the top-tier spotlight may, however, end like the first one.

Trump’s real problems stem from his first single-combat defeat of the cycle at the hands of Carly Fiorina. She showed that he could be stopped, and for a candidate who promises so much winning that supporters will “get bored” with winning, even one defeat does damage.

As for Fiorina, who has her first congressional endorsement from Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., she is trying to add more substance to a campaign that has so far mostly surfed the political zeitgeist. David Drucker explains the challenge with his typical concision and depth, but the takeaway is that it remains to be seen if Fiorina has staying power. (If you want to see how it’s going on the trail, check out Senior National Correspondent John Roberts’ behind the scenes look.)

For his part, Bush is rather reinventing himself, too.

The frontrunner has gone from distancing himself from his famous family, to embracing its upside within the GOP nominating process. What was once an emphasis on “my own man” shifted Friday to his potential strength as a world leader: “I know how to do this because, yes, I am a Bush.” What changed? One thing is his narrower path to the nomination, but the other is the positive response he got for defending his brother against Trump’s attacks.

If Bush can go the distance, though, it looks – right now – like it will be not Trump but Cruz with whom he will be dueling on the Ides of March.

Of course, with another government shutdown looming and Cruz right in the thick of it, he may be joining Trump and Carson in the overexposure caucus.

1) Jeb Bush; 2) Ted Cruz; 3) Donald Trump; 4) Carly Fiorina [+2]; 5) Marco Rubio [+3]; 6) Ben Carson [-1]; 7) John Kasich [+2]; 8) Scott Walker [-3]; 9) Rand Paul [+1]; 10) Chris Christie [-1]

On the radar: Mike Huckabee, Rick SantorumBobby JindalLindsey GrahamGeorge PatakiJim Gilmore

What would you say? -
 Give us your take on the 2016 Power Index we will share the best and brightest with the whole class. Send your thoughts to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM

[Watch Fox: Chris Stirewalt joins “The Real Story” in the 2 p.m. ET hour with the latest on who’s up and who’s down in the 2016 Power Index.]

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
Philadelphia magazine brings us the story of Brad Pearson, who was kidnapped years ago as a college student in the city’s rough west side and his decision to seek out the perpetrators, now long in prison. Pearson’s tale is compelling but it also veers away from the kind of formulaic endings – “they all lived happily ever after” or “aren’t the bad guys the real victims here” – that would tempt the teller of a story as jarring as this. It’s worth a look.

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

POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval:
Approve – 45.4 percent//Disapprove – 50.8 percent
Directions of Country: Right Direction – 29.4 percent//Wrong Track – 61.4 percent

HILLARY: ‘REAL PERSON,’ REAL PANICKED
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton made her first Sunday show appearance in four years and reminded us all why these shows are “not [her] favorite thing to do.” While her campaign points to a new CNN poll that shows her easily fending off Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sanders is symptom, not her actual ailment.

The growing specter of a rumored Joe Biden run intensified with reports that his wife, Jill, is “100 percent” on board for his third presidential run. While Biden is still hedging in public, the Clinton campaign seems to have shifted from dismissive of a Biden run to an intensifying freak out.

We saw indications of this as she tries to get left of the president and, by extension, Biden. President Obama proposed taking 10,000 refugees in the U.S. while Clinton advocated for 65,000. The Democratic frontrunner took a similar tactic on Keystone saying she was “putting the White House on notice” before staking out her own stance.

Advocating mass migration from Syria may do her well with primary voters, but it looks like a loser in the general election. And, as with her head-snapping claim of being “an outsider,” isn’t likely to persuade skeptical Obama Democrats that she’s trustworthy on their core issues.

Hillary Clinton is indeed “a real person” – a real panicked person.

Hillary now underwater in home state poll - WSJ: “For the first time in Hillary Clinton’s political career, more voters in her adopted home state of New York view her unfavorably than favorably, according to a Siena College poll published Monday. In the overwhelmingly Democratic state, 51% of the registered voters polled said they held an unfavorable view of the Democratic presidential front-runner, while 46% said they held a positive view of her. In a Siena poll released in July, Mrs. Clinton’s favorable rating was 56% and her unfavorable rating was 40%.”

Sanders smashes Hillary’s crowd count - WaPo: “When Clinton appeared on [University of New Hampshire’s] campus…two days earlier, about 600 people came to see her at a forum about college affordability…Sanders’s event, which his campaign said drew more than 3,000 people, was held at a time more convenient for students.”

But does Pepper have a super PAC? - Weekly Standard: “Among the luminaries appearing this year at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, part of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation [is Pepper] the ‘first humanoid robot in the world capable of recognizing universal emotions.’”

ACID TEST FOR BOEHNER, MCCONNELL
WaPo: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both say the government won’t shut down. But with fewer than five working days before the fiscal year ends, neither has explained how they intend to stop that from happening.  Instead, Republicans have made precious little progress in managing a political revolt within their own party that threatens both Boehner’s leadership and the GOP’s ability to keep the government open. Congressional staff and lawmakers speculate that the only way to avoid a shutdown will be for the House to vote in the final hours of Sept. 30, the deadline for a spending deal.”

[You don’t know me - Boehner tells Politico Republican donors understand what the conservative group after his head doesn’t: he’s a conservative but not a miracle worker. “‘[T]he idea that I’m the establishment, that I’m some RINO, is just laughable.’” Boehner said.]

No coup plan… yet - Susan Ferrechio writes: “Even some of the staunchest anti-establishment Tea Party Republicans in the House admit they don't have a viable plan to unseat House Speaker John Boehner. And despite an increase in Capitol Hill hallway chatter about a shake up,… conservatives admit they aren't planning to call for such a vote and will likely leave Boehner alone, even if the spending legislation ends up including Planned Parenthood funding…. House Republicans appear instead to be shifting their anger to the Senate and its majority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has been unable to pass key GOP legislation send from the House. House Republicans are urging McConnell to change the filibuster rules in the Senate so that legislation can pass with 51 votes instead of 60.”

LIKE, HOW BIG OF A SPIDER ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Goshen [Indiana] News: A 9-year-old boy suffered minor head injuries when the car he was in collided with a school bus Friday afternoon. And according to police, the crash was caused, at least in part, by a spider. Kosciusko County Deputies and officers with the Syracuse Police Department arrived on the scene at 4:18 p.m. and located a 9-year-old boy lying outside a Dodge Avenger that had collided with the school bus. Initial investigation from the scene, indicates that the boy's mother, Angela K. Kipp, 35, had been backing the vehicle from her driveway. Kipp told authorities had jumped from the vehicle after discovering a spider on her shoulder as the vehicle was still in reverse. The 9 year old then climbed from the rear seat to the front driver's seat and attempted to activate the brake pedal but instead depressed the throttle. … Officers also stated that there were no children aboard the school bus.”

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

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.