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Buzz Cut:
• Muslim mayhem aids Trump in new polls
• Power Play: Rep. Jolly defends his call for Trump to self deport
• Hillary slides in battleground poll on Syria, FBI probe
• Cruz questions Trump’s ‘judgment’
• He takes constituent services seriously

MUSLIM MAYHEM AIDS TRUMP IN NEW POLLS
We don’t know yet how Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States will play out in the national Republican electorate. But a CBS/NYT poll out today suggests that the outrage and fear that has followed the worst Islamist terror attack in the U.S. since 9/11 is helping Trump.

The poll, the first of real repute to show him breaking out of his usual range of about a quarter of the vote, has Trump dominating the GOP with 35 percent. Trump is up 16 points since the organizations’ previous survey in October.

While this poll was taken before his call for a Muslim crackdown, Trump had already expressed interest in a suggestion to force Muslim Americans to register with the federal government. Voters pretty well knew where he stood on religious tests.

And we have real evidence that Trump’s plan to single out visitors based on religion is doing him good, at least in South Carolina – the vanguard for the Southern, conservative states that will dominate the early going in the upcoming GOP primary season.

A new Fox News poll seems to confirm that in the “first in the South” primary, Trump’s Muslim ban plan has helped him. The poll was in the field for four days, two of which came after Trump called for the religious test for entry. Trump did 8 points better after the ban than before it. And you can also compare that with a Winthrop University poll taken before Trump overawed the airwaves. In the older poll, the New York billionaire led the field by 8 points rather than the 20 points by which he leads the Fox News poll.

Certainly Newt Gingrich’s harsh words about some of the 3 million or so Muslim Americans four years ago helped him to his South Carolina primary victory, so it’s not so surprising that Trump would be successful in a climate of much greater alarm about domestic terrorism.

If these Trump polls are harbingers rather than temporary responses to turmoil, the pressure on candidates approaching the vanishing point is going to hugely intensify. Calls for candidates to drop out and support one of the two viable non-Trump candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, will grow as the GOP accelerates toward what promises to be a catastrophic general election.

Power Play: Rep. Jolly defends his call for Trump to self deport - Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., is the first member of Congress to call for Donald Trump to leave the 2016 race. As a Bush-backer and the front runner for his party’s nomination in next year’s Florida Senate race, Jolly has plenty at stake in his party’s presidential nominating process. Jolly said that it is his Christian faith that led him to denounce Trump’s call for a religious test. WATCH HERE.

[Politico reports that white nationalist groups are taking full advantage of Trump’s focus on dangers posed by minority groups.]

Nixes Israel visit - On the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forceful rejection of Donald Trump’s demand that all Muslims be barred entry to the United States, Trump announced today via Twitter at he was cancelling his scheduled trip to Israel until “after I become President of the U.S.”

HILLARY SLIDES IN BATTLEGROUND POLL ON SYRIA, FBI PROBE
The pro-GOP group American Crossroads’ monthly battleground state poll, conducted by Vox Populi, shows a five-point dive in support for Hillary Clinton against a generic Republican opponent since last month’s poll. Clinton’s stance on accepting Syrian refugees, and her ongoing FBI investigation made over half of respondents less likely to vote for her. In a head-to-head faceoff, Clinton sits at 35 percent to her Republican challenger’s 54 percent, a 19-point deficit compared to a 12-point deficit in the November matchup. The poll also saw a 2-point uptick in Clinton’s unfavorable rating, which now sits at 57-percent. See the full results here.

[Hillary Clinton’s campaign talked up her aggressive ad in favor of gun control. But the NYT reports that the campaign barely aired the spot in Iowa and New Hampshire, which also happen to be swing states with loads of gun owners.]

Millennial poll finds Sanders ahead - A new poll of Millennial voters from Harvard’s Institute of Politics finds Republican voters under 30 torn between Donald Trump and Ben Carson. On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton at 41 percent to her 35 percent.

THE JUDGE’S RULING: EVIDENTIARY PROBLEMS
Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano draws on his experience trying criminal cases to look at the missing evidence in the terror attack that killed 14 people in San Bernardino. He concludes that an over-reliance on electronic spying rather than on-the-ground human intelligence has resulted in overload: “And that has produced a haystack of data so gigantic in size that by the time the needle of terror plotting has been found, it is often too late.” Read here.

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
Science News: “Bright patches of salt on the dwarf planet Ceres hint at a subsurface layer of briny water ice. Ammonia-laden minerals also suggest that Ceres was at least partially assembled from material hauled in from the outskirts of the solar system, researchers report online December 9 in two papers in Nature. Reflective spots on Ceres have been one of the enduring mysteries of the Dawn mission…which arrived at the dwarf planet March 6…During its visit, the spacecraft has cataloged more than 130 bright blemishes on Ceres’ surface. Image analysis now indicates that hydrated magnesium sulfates, a type of salt, blanket the brightest patches. Haze also appears over those same patches every morning (local time), probably from sublimation of dusty, briny water ice exposed by impacts with space rocks, Dawn scientists suggest.”

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POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 44.1 percent//Disapprove – 51.4 percent
Directions of Country: Right Direction – 27.9 percent//Wrong Track – 64.0 percent

CRUZ QUESTIONS TRUMP’S ‘JUDGMENT’
NYT: “Senator Ted Cruz raised questions on Wednesday at a private fund-raiser about whether Donald J. Trump, his bombastic rival for the Republican presidential nomination, has the ‘judgment’ to be president and mused about ‘strength,’ according to two people who attended the event in Manhattan. The remarks from Mr. Cruz came as he has studiously avoided public criticism of Mr. Trump, who is handily beating the rest of the Republican field in opinion polls.”

Cruz crew says this is nothing new - A campaign official told Fox News’s Serafin Gomez: “This isn’t departure from things he’s said before... Of course he’s going to make case for why he’s the one best equipped to be commander in chief.”

Cruz picks up key social conservative endorsement - WashEx: “In a statement, [National Organization for Marriage] president Brian S. Brown said endorsing Cruz was a difficult decision as so many other ‘tremendous candidates’ remain, including Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio. But the group chose Cruz, Brown wrote, because he is a ‘proven champion’ of marriage.”

[Watch Fox: Bob Vander Plaats one of Iowa’s leading Christian conservatives will be on “Your World with Neil Cavuto” today at 4p.m.to discuss his organization’s soon-to-be announced presidential endorsement. Speculation centers on Cruz as the recipient.]

Rubio’s brother steps out for vets - AP: “The Republican presidential candidate and Florida senator will appear in Iowa Thursday with his brother Mario, an Army veteran. It’ll be his first time on the 2016 campaign trail for Mario Rubio. Marco Rubio will offer his plans to reform a system plagued by long delays for those seeking care and allegations of falsified records, according to his prepared remarks. As a prime example, Rubio will point to his brother, who served in the Army from 1968 through 1971, and has been waiting on dental work for a service-related injury.”

Rubio: ISIS, not Trump’s Muslim ban should be the focus - Sen. Marco Rubio talked to Megyn Kelly Wednesday on the Syrian refugee crisis saying we need to expand beyond surveying mosques, “It’s about being able to have access to these facilities whether it is a mosque or a restaurant or people are being radicalized and being able to survey them and identify…within them.” Watch here.

Jeb’s PAC man Murphy gobbles cash - WaPo: “The super PAC supporting Jeb Bush is racing through its massive war chest much faster than money is coming in, spending close to $50 ­million in a record blitz that has so far failed to lift the former Florida governor’s sputtering presidential candidacy…It raised only about $13 million in the five months that followed, according to a person familiar with the figure…”

AEHQ IN DEPTH: RISK CORRIDORS - The team takes a deep dive on Sen. Marco Rubio’s much touted Obamacare blow. Last year, he successfully pushed a provision to ban the federal government from contributing risk corridor payments to insurance companies calling it a bailout of insurers. Now, he wants to extend that prohibition to next year. The AEHQ investigates what that might mean for the president’s defining legislation tonight on “Special Report with Bret Baier” at 6 p.m. ET.

TAKE FIVE: SENATE STAKES GETTING HIGHER
The dynamics in the battle for control of the Senate are heating up, even as the weather chills. Republicans are mounting a formidable defense as Democrats try to pick-up the five seats they need to gain a majority in the upper chamber in 2016.  As the candidates ratchet up the rhetoric and national parties pour in the cash, we want to know which Republican-held seats our readers think are most vulnerable to an assault by the blue team. Send in your pick of the top five battleground Senate races and let us know why you think so.  We’ll share your thoughts with the rest of the class.

Bring it! - Share your top five picks. Email them – just five, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @ChrisStirewalt.

The tally - The current ranking of the most hotly-contested seats in the battle for control of the Senate based on Fox News First reader votes: 1) Illinois; 2) Wisconsin; 3) Pennsylvania; 4) Ohio; 5) Florida.

Race Notes
Colorado -
“Jefferson County commissioner to join race for U.S. Senate Thursday” – Denver Sun Times

Illinois - “Syrian refugees become issue in Illinois Senate race” – AP

New Hampshire - “Ayotte camp defends vote for GOP alternative ‘watch list’ gun sales ban” – WMUR

Ohio - “Portman campaign takes aim at Strickland’s Congressional career” The Hill

Pennsylvania - “Democrats stake out turf in Senate race” – Philadelphia Inquirer

Wisconsin - “Johnson-Feingold race offers stark divide on national security” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

HE TAKES CONSTITUENT SERVICES SERIOUSLY
Daily Herald: “A Waukegan alderman who beat a sick raccoon to death with a tire iron last month will not be charged with a crime, and some residents, including the woman who witnessed the beating, are not happy about it, the Chicago Tribune reports. Waukegan resident Carol Alleman spotted a raccoon behind her house acting disoriented and said she planned to keep an eye on it until an animal control officer could pick it up. She went into her house briefly, but when she came out she saw Alderman Larry TenPas ‘whaling’ on the raccoon…TenPas, 81, said he took matters into his own hands after hearing about the raccoon from another resident. TenPas said he thought the raccoon was showing signs of rabies or distemper and was concerned about the safety of the kids in the neighborhood.”

AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“I suspect, though, that [Trump’s] ego…would restrain him from running as a third party, assuming he doesn’t win the nomination because it’s going to be a lot harder than he thinks…And that will be his mark on history and I don’t think he likes to be seen as a loser. The Republican nomination is his shot and I think that’s what he wants to go for.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.

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.