From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Jersey Boys: When President Obama last campaigned for Jon Corzine back in July, we wondered whether it would be his last visit given Corzine's low poll numbers and political woes. Well, he's coming back to New Jersey to attend a rally for the incumbent governor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Hackensack at 6:05 pm ET. The low poll numbers and the political woes are still there for the incumbent governor. But due to Chris Christie's struggles (yesterday's story on Michele Brown was damning), independent Chris Daggett's surprising candidacy, and New Jersey's blue tint, political observers now realize that Corzine CAN win this thing. If Democrats do win in New Jersey, as well as in the special congressional election in NY-23, there will be two storylines to consider the day after: 1) third-party candidates -- Daggett in NJ and Doug Hoffman in NY-23 -- will have helped the Democrats and hurt the Republicans, and 2) that Republicans once again will have struck out in the Northeast. If Republicans lose NY-23, they will control just TWO of the state's 29 congressional districts. Wow.
*** Aiding small businesses: Before Obama stumps in New Jersey, the president, at 1:50 pm ET, will announce a package of initiatives that will increase credit to small businesses, per NBC's Athena Jones. The proposal will increase the caps for existing Small Business Administration loans and give smaller banks better access to TARP funding to encourage more lending to small business. The fact that TARP is being tapped as a small-biz-incentive tool to get credit flowing makes you wonder: "What took you so long to announce this?" Speaking of TARP, "Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program … criticized the Treasury Department for failing to require banks to detail exactly how they are using the money." And former Treasury official Neel Kashkari told CNBC's John Harwood this: "I do think Wall Street firms need to show more sensitivity. Every single Wall Street firm, despite their protest today, every single one benefited from our actions. Every single one. And they need to recognize that. And when they get up there and say, `Well, we didn't need it,' that's bull. They did need it. And they're all happy with the actions that we took, and they need to show restraint today."
***Kerry steps up: Take a look at some of John Kerry recent accomplishments: saves climate bill, becomes the administration's go-to guy on Karzai in Afghanistan. It took him nearly four years to find his rhythm following his 2004 loss, but Kerry is a player again. On two different fronts, he has stepped up and become a game-saver for his party. On climate/energy, he took a bill that was languishing in the Senate and recruited Lindsey Graham to breathe new life into it. The bill still has a long way to go, but there's a path to passage and that's in no small part thanks to Kerry. On Karzai, there are a few tick-tocks about the role he played (one here in the Wall Street Journal), including how the Obama administration used him to, well, super-cede Holbrooke and others. As one Dem strategist commented to us today, "Kerry finally got to show what kind of president he could have been." But in classic Kerry fashion, no one in the media is in the dark about Kerry's Afghanistan role.
*** A pox on both houses? Be sure to take a look at GOP pollster Glen Bolger's analysis of a recent Democracy Corps (D) survey. Bolger argues that Democratic issue-perception problems are growing, while the GOP's are fading. In fact, he makes the case against the "pox on both your houses" wisdom that some argue is out there. The Democracy Corps poll shows that it's going to be House Dems, particularly in the South but also in many swing or McCain districts, who will be the first Dems to pay the political price for the Obama administration.
*** What women want: As part of the NBC/MSNBC focus this week on women in the workplace and society, First Read takes a look today at the issues women care most about. According to last month's NBC/WSJ poll, both men and women rank the economy as their top concern (56% of men and 55% of women had it as their No. 1 or No. 2 issue). But then there's a fascinating disparity: 46% of women rank health care as one of their top-two concerns, versus 34% of men who think that -- a 12-point difference. On the other hand, a combined 39% of men rank the deficit and spending as a top-two concern, versus 29% of women who do -- a 10-point difference. So women care more about health care than men do, while men are more concerned about the deficit and spending. What's more, women overall support Obama's health-care plans more than men do. Per last month's poll, women support Obama's plan by a 40%-38% margin. By comparison, men oppose it by a 44%-38% clip. So here's your battle of the sexes: Women are more inclined to be health-care voters, while men are deficit/spending voters.
*** Guthrie interviews Obama: Also as part of the NBC/MSNBC focus on women this week, NBC's Savannah Guthrie today interviews President Obama. (The president has put a lot of women in high places, but how does he truly make sure his administration reflects a woman's perspective?) In addition, NBC's Andrea Mitchell will interview Sen. Olympia Snowe on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which begins at 1:00 pm ET.
*** No. 50 for Mitch: On Capitol Hill today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will deliver what his office is billing as his 50th speech on health care since June 1. According to an aide, McConnell will talk about the need for reform and argue that Democratic proposals won't do the job. McConnell today also pens an op-ed in USA Today arguing that every Republican supports health reform. "Health care costs are too high, and too many Americans lack health insurance. I have said so in just about every one of those 50 speeches and in dozens of interviews. And every other Senate Republican is on record favoring common-sense reforms for a system that needs them." In other Cap Hill speeches today, brand-new Sen. George LeMieux (R), who succeeded Mel Martinez, delivers his maiden speech from the Senate floor around 10:15 am ET.
*** Other odds and ends: Beginning at 9:30 am ET, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and Education Secretary Duncan appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to testify on the administration's response to the H1N1 virus. By the way, NBC's Athena Jones reports that Obama received his seasonal flu shot yesterday afternoon. The first lady and the girls had already received theirs. In other Washington events today, actress Nicole Kidman testifies over on the House side at 2:00 pm about international violence against women. And Drudge protégé Andrew Breitbart, as well as those conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute, hold a news conference at the National Press Club at 9:30 am.
*** 2009 watch: In Virginia's gubernatorial race, Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell sparred in their final debate last night, which the Washington Post says wasn't a game-changer. "McDonnell accused Deeds of plotting a tax increase and backing controversial Democratic proposals in Washington. Deeds sought to convince voters that McDonnell, a former legislator and state attorney general, had undergone a dramatic election-year conversion from a conservative ideologue to a pragmatic moderate." Also note Politico's observation that Bill Clinton got a bigger crowd stumping for Corzine yesterday than he did campaigning for Deeds.
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 13 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 48 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 90 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 377 days