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Obama brings message to Maine today

Seth Diemond smiles Wednesday, March 31, 2010, after getting tickets for President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Portland, Maine. Supporters waited in the rain for hours to get tickets for the event, where Obama will discuss health care. (AP Photo/Joel Page)
The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — President Barack Obama selected another friendly state for his campaign-style tour to sell his health care overhaul with an address today in Portland, where some people waited more than 10 hours in the rain for tickets to the event.

Obama, who’ll be accompanied by Small Business Administrator Karen Mills, is expected to talk up the health care plan’s tax credits for businesses with 25 or fewer employees that provide health coverage to their workers. With the tax break, the small businesses would be reimbursed for part of their health care costs, reaching up to half by 2014 for the smallest businesses.

Greg Howard of Maine Change That Works, a liberal advocacy group, said it’s important for the president to explain those sorts of details because there’s so much misinformation about the health care law.

“A lot of money has been spent to spread misinformation and disinformation, and the president’s visit is intended to combat that,” said Howard, who pointed out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $2.5 million on television advertising in Maine alone to fight the health care plan.

The Maine visit comes a week after Obama kicked off the road show in Iowa City, where he first unveiled his plan to provide universal health care three years ago.

In Maine, Obama will be preaching to the choir in a state that has focused on improving its health care system. Rep. Chellie Pingree led efforts to lower prescription drug costs when she was in the Legislature. And Gov. John Baldacci created the Dirigo Health program aimed at extending health insurance to the working poor.

Wednesday, hundreds of people waited for hours in the rain and drizzle in hopes of getting a ticket for the next day’s event.

Ryan Grady, who skipped class to wait 10 hours in line, said he’ll be able to get insurance for the first time in two years. Thanks to Obama’s health care initiative, the 23-year-old Brunswick resident will be able to join his dad’s health care plan while he seeks an undergraduate degree in political science.

Grady said his mother, who is disabled, will benefit as well. The bulk of her benefits go to prescription drugs, leaving little for food and electricity, he said.

“I’d like to shake his hand, look him dead in the eye and thank him for his efforts,” Grady said of Obama. “He’s been unwavering in the face of obstacles from the beginning.”

But there are divisions in the health care debate, even in Maine. Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins ultimately voted against the health care overhaul. And critics will be making sure their voices are heard Thursday.

Tea Party activists and Republicans vowed to be outside the Portland Expo to voice their displeasure with parts of the plan, including the requirement that Americans buy health insurance.

“It’s almost like [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and Obama are taking a victory lap. It’s like, ‘Ha ha, we got it passed.’ A lot of people resent it that Obama is gloating,” said Andrew Ian Dodge, a Maine Tea Party coordinator from Harpswell.

The line of ticket seekers that snaked away from the Portland Expo past the stadium used by the Portland Sea Dogs was reminiscent of the line of people waiting in Portland to get into the Democratic caucuses, which Obama won. The weather was miserable that day, too, with snow falling.

Obama supporter Carl Inkel of Portland was near the front both times. He praised Obama’s determination to do what it took to get the health care plan passed.

“To have someone who follows through with what he says, and gets the job done, to me speaks volumes about him and his character,” said Inkel.

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