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Speech seen as key to Obama campaign

SUNDAY, JAN. 23, 2011

President is expected to invoke centrist themes

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to use his State of the Union speech Tuesday to articulate a centrist vision that will shape the remaining two years of his term and provide a template for his re-election campaign.

Obama has been moving steadily to the political center since his midterm election drubbing two months ago, agreeing to extend tax cuts for the richest Americans, calling for business-friendly regulations and attempting to repair his relationship with the business community. His speech Tuesday is an opportunity to showcase that transformation, especially for independent voters.

“This is a fundamental, if not the fundamental, moment of the Obama presidency,” said Douglas Schoen, who was an adviser to former President Bill Clinton. “He has been moving to the center by fits and starts. But he has yet to declare where he stands and what he wants to accomplish.”

In the speech, Obama will lay out the steps he’ll take to boost an economy bedeviled by high unemployment, while summarizing the progress made to date, according to White House aides. He will also address the whopping federal debt, a topic that contributed to voter angst in November when Republicans won control of the House.

He will try to plant the idea that things are getting better, but avoid suggesting that troubles are over. With unemployment at 9.4 percent, no one is apt to believe the economy has recovered.

“You’ve got to be careful not to take too much credit when people are still feeling pretty bad,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “But you also have to put yourself in position to take credit down the road as things do improve.”

In a short video preview of his speech on his grass-roots website Organizing for America, Obama said: “My principal focus, my No. 1 focus, is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing and we are creating jobs, not just now but well into the future. I’m focused on making sure the economy is working for everybody.”

Building on a theme from his speech in Tucson after the shooting rampage that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., Obama is likely to call for more civility in politics. The conciliatory message is a sharp break from some of Obama’s more combative oratory of the last two years.

“This is his opportunity to close the book on the 2010 election and open up the Obama 2012 campaign,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. “This is his initial opportunity to make the case to voters that he understands the message that they sent last November – that he’s listening and he gets it.”


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