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Five things to look for in Obama State of the Union address

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address at a political low point. He needs to buck up his party and soothe a frustrated electorate. Will he adopt his new fighting persona? Will anyone heckle him?

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Obama has also pledged to freeze discretionary nondefense spending for three years. But he plans to announce increased spending on education, and he backs a new jobs package in Congress, so the message on fiscal discipline will be mixed at best. The best he can hope for is to win back some of the independent voters who have steadily left his side over the past year. Republicans have hardened their opposition as his popularity ratings have fallen.

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4. Does Obama try again to change the tone in Washington? His oft-repeated campaign pledge to move beyond business as usual and toward a “postpartisan politics,” barely got off the ground in his first year. Some Republicans tried to influence healthcare reform, but gave up. For the most part, the lack of effort has been mutual: Republicans have stood back with their hands folded across their chests as Democrats sat behind closed doors and crafted legislation.

Now that the 60-vote Senate supermajority is gone – and along with it, the ability to halt filibusters just with Democratic votes – Obama has no choice but to reach across the aisle again. There could be an upside to this, Vice President Joe Biden told party contributors on Tuesday. Now Republicans will be held accountable, too.

5. Will anyone heckle? Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina yelled “you lie” at Obama when the president addressed a joint session of Congress on healthcare last September. The incident turned into a fundraising bonanza for both Mr. Wilson and his main Democratic opponent in the next election.

But if someone tries that Wednesday night, it would probably backfire, analysts say. Obama is more politically vulnerable than he was last fall, and so Republicans need to keep the story focused on the president, says William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar and former Clinton White House policy director.

“If someone heckles him, the story is more about comity than Obama,” says Mr. Galston. “So at this point, I don’t think it’s useful for [the Republicans], even in the most cynical calculation.”


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