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First thoughts: The Maine event

Obama goes to Portland, ME to promote tax credits for small businesses in the health-care law… Speech is at 3:25 pm ET… The day-after coverage of the offshore drilling announcement is mostly positive for the president… GOP seizes on generic ballot numbers in new USA Today/Gallup poll… Previewing the MA GOV race… Both RGA and DGA have a lot of money to spend on this year's gubernatorial races… Tony Perkins fires shot at Steele-led RNC… Halter and Lincoln fight for African-American voters in Arkansas… And Mitt Romney stumps with Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The Maine event: President Obama today hits the road for the second time to promote the new health-care law since its passage. After visiting Iowa last week, Obama today travels to Portland, ME, where he speaks at 3:25 pm ET. (As NBC's Mike Viqueira points out, it's interesting that both Iowa and Maine -- more blue than purple in 2008 -- are represented by three GOP senators who voted against health care, but who were thought to be potential bipartisan supporters: Chuck Grassley, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe.) The White House says that Obama's remarks will focus on the health-care law's tax credit for small businesses that help them purchase insurance for their employees. This tax credit is effective immediately and will cover up to 35% of the premiums a small business pays to cover its works. In 2014, that rate goes up to 50%. The White House adds that the tax credit is estimated to save small businesses $40 billion by 2019, per the Congressional Budget Office.

*** The day after: The day-after coverage of Obama's offshore drilling announcement is looking pretty positive for him so far. The Washington Post says the announcement "amounted to an offshore political gerrymander in which the administration barred drilling near states where it remains unpopular -- California and New Jersey -- and allowed it in places where it has significant support, such as Virginia and parts of Alaska and the Southeast." Politico adds that the political price Obama paid for was relatively small: "Angry blowback from environmental activists who still support his overall climate change policy. But the short-term benefits were large: By announcing the policy change, Obama defused a potentially potent Republican issue ahead of the summer gas spike and the fall midterms, while embracing major elements of the GOP's "all of the above" energy approach to kick-start a stalled climate change bill."

*** The generic ballot test: Republicans today are seizing on the results of a new USA Today/Gallup poll, taken after health care's passage, which shows Republicans narrowly leading on the generic-ballot test among registered voters, 46%-45%. More from the poll: " A record-low 28% say most members of Congress deserve re-election… For the first time, both major parties are viewed unfavorably by most Americans… Fifty percent say Obama doesn't deserve re-election, and 26% say he deserves 'a great deal' of the blame for the nation's economic problems, double the percentage in July. Bush still does worse: 42% give him a great deal of the blame."

*** Previewing MA GOV: With Obama also hitting two fundraising events in Boston tonight, now is as good of a time as any to look at Massachusetts' gubernatorial contest, which will be one of the best races this cycle. On the Democratic side, incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick is running for re-election, and he's quite vulnerable (smart MA observers will tell you that Scott Brown was running more against Patrick than he was Obama). On the GOP side, Charles Baker and Christy Mihos are battling for the nomination (the primary takes place on Sept. 14). And the wild card is State Treasurer Tim Cahill, first elected as a Democrat but who's running as an independent. As it turns out, Cahill appears to be propping up Patrick. A Suffolk poll released in February had Patrick at 33%, Baker at 25%, and Cahill at 23%. One other thing worth pointing out: This could very well be the most interesting race this cycle that really doesn't have a national impact. Patrick needs Cahill to be a player in this election, and the Republicans know it; in fact, we've noticed a minor uptick in the RGA attacks on Cahill. If Cahill weren't in this race, Patrick would be seen as even more vulnerable than even Chet Culver in Iowa.

*** We're in the money: Speaking of governor races, both the Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association are going to have A LOT of money to spend on this cycle's 37 gubernatorial contests. Yesterday, the DGA announced that it raised $8 million in the first quarter of this year and has $22 million in the bank. Not to be outdone, the RGA reveals that it raised $9 million in the quarter and has a whopping $31 million cash on hand. But the DGA is questioning the RGA's 1stQ fundraising numbers, given that the RGA said it raised $13.5 million from its fundraising gala back in February. "I am sure they are embarrassed that they fell $4.5 million short of what they said they raised," DGA spokeswoman Emily DeRose tells First Read. RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf responds, "Like any fundraising event, those numbers include firm pledges, so you can let [the DGA] know a lot more is on the way." Still, put these numbers in even more context and you'll see how big of an advantage the Republicans actually have. The GOP has the self-funder of all self-funders in California (Meg Whitman), while the Democrats do not. And that alone could eat up a GIANT chunk of DGA cash; never mind the fact the Democrats are playing much more defense (see Massachusetts) than offense.

*** Tony Perkins vs. Michael Steele: As Politico notes, the RGA's impressive cash on hand is certainly a reminder why Republicans look back so fondly at the tenure of Haley Barbour, the current RGA chair who used to head the RNC back in the 1990s. But for the current RNC chairman, Michael Steele, the hits keep on coming. Now, Family Research Council head Tony Perkins is urging his members to stop giving the RNC money, Politico's Martin writes. "I've hinted at this before, but now I am saying it: Don't give money to the RNC," Perkins is expected to tell FRC members in the group's next e-mail newsletter. "If you want to put money into the political process, and I encourage you to do so, give directly to candidates who you know reflect your values." Perkins' beefs have to do 1) with the event at the sex-themed club and 2) with the RNC hiring Ted Olson to represent it in the effort to overturn the soft-money ban. "Yes, this is the same Ted Olson that is trying to overturn the results of the marriage amendment in California," Perkins writes.

*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Arkansas, Bill Halter and Blanche Lincoln are battling for the support of African Americans, who make up 15% of the state's residents (and more than that in a Democratic primary). Halter is up with an ad on African-American radio that includes this line: "[Lincoln] sided with those Republicans who tried to kill President Obama's reforms." In addition, the Halter camp distributed a story about the NAACP being upset with Lincoln for not appointing more African-American judges. Meanwhile, Lincoln has her own ads on black radio -- with one saying she "stood with our president to pass healthcare reform… Even though the Tea Party and insurance companies attacked Blanche Lincoln, she never abandoned our president, nor you."… In Kentucky, Trey Grayson has a Web ad linking Rand Paul and his father to Jeremiah Wright… And in Pennsylvania's Democratic gubernatorial primary, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato has released his first TV ads.

*** Other midterm news: In South Carolina, Mitt Romney campaigns for gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley (R)… And Tim Pawlenty's PAC yesterday announced that it is endorsing seven GOP candidates running this cycle: Tim Burns (PA-12), Robert Dold (IL-10), Sean Duffy (WI-7), Charles Djou (HI-1), Pat Meehan (PA-7), John Hoeven (ND-SEN), and Pat Toomey (PA-SEN). 

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 33 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 40 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 47 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 215 days

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