President Obama gives his third State of the Union Tuesday against a backdrop of a still-sluggish jobs market and an electorate ready to glom onto signs of economic progress.
He also must walk a fine line of claiming credit for promises kept while leaving unspoken an acknowledgement he needs more time to do more things.
In recent speeches, Obama has begun returning to his 2008 "change" theme by trying to link his accomplishments to the idea of change, The Washington Post said.
His speeches also have taken on the cadence of Obama when he was a candidate in 2008 -- slowly building to a pitch and using repetitive phrases like a preacher at a tent revival.
At the same time, Obama rolled out several initiatives intended to show his grit in fighting on behalf of ordinary Joes.
Obama recently used a recess appointment to install his choice to head a consumer financial watchdog agency whose appointment was blocked by Senate Republicans; called for tax breaks for businesses that bring jobs back to the United States from overseas; and asked Congress to return to him the ability to restructure government agencies. He also used his executive powers to effect changes without needing congressional action.
"The competition for new jobs, for businesses, for middle-class security -- that's a race I know we can win," Obama said recently at a fundraiser in Chicago. "But America is not going to win if we give in to those who think that we can only respond to our challenges with the same tired, old tune -- just hand out more tax cuts to folks who don't need them and weren't even asking for them, let companies do whatever they want, hope that prosperity somehow trickles down on everybody else's head. It doesn't work."
White House aides told the Post his annual address before a joint session of Congress will draw on the themes he laid out in December in Osawatomie, Kan., where Obama called the state of the middle class the "defining issue of our time."
"For most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded," Obama told a crowd in Osawatomie. "Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren't, and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up."
"This isn't just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time," he said. "This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement."
Republican operatives in Washington have a 500-page playbook outlining how to attack the president for not living up to the promises of "hope and change" he made during his 2008 campaign, the Post said.
"The last three years have held a lot of change, but they haven't offered much hope," GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said in a speech after winning the New Hampshire primary.
Romney also offered his take on the middle class, saying it has been "crushed."
"Nearly 24 million of our fellow Americans are still out of work, struggling to find work, or have just stopped looking," the former Massachusetts governor said. "And this president wakes up every morning, looks out across America and is proud to announce, 'It could be worse.'"
A group of lawmakers hope to turn Obama's report to Congress into "date night" once again, with members of opposite parties sitting side by side instead of across the aisle.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has urged congressional members to bring a "date" from the opposite party for the address -- just as they did last year when Obama spoke soon after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was wounded during a shooting rampage in Tucson in which six people died, KUNC radio, Greeley, Colo., reported.
Udall agreed there are times when one should stand up for a party's beliefs, but there also are times when partisanship should be set aside.
"One thing I've learned in Washington -- there are plenty of times to play team there, but there are less and less to play for the big team, the team that matters, the red white and blue team," said Udall, who invited Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to sit with him.
"In the days when we had a lot more time together, as citizens as Americans, it made some sense to go to the State of the Union to shout and cheer for our president or jeer the president of the other party. [But] this is a night that doesn't happen but once a year and I think it's important for us to remember what our overall responsibilities are and that's to the United States and our title."