In Washington, President Obama harnessed one of the grand symbols of his office — a prime-time State of the Union speech — to present himself to voters as a champion for middle-class families struggling to get by and declare that “we’ve come too far to turn back now.”
In Florida, the escalating battle for the right to challenge Obama threatened to further bloody the leading contenders — with Mitt Romney on the defensive over his tax rate as revealed by the Tuesday release of his 2010 returns and Newt Gingrich trying to fend off questions about his consulting work for mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
The day brought a reminder that, for all of Obama’s many political challenges and relatively low approval ratings, the White House has some reason for optimism.
In addition to the prospect of a protracted GOP nomination fight, Obama has been boosted as the jobless rate has ticked down in recent months. And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found independent voters quickly souring on Romney, whose strength with that group not long ago made him the opponent that many Democrats feared most.
The president’s address Tuesday served far more as a roadmap for how Obama as a reelection candidate intends to capitalize on his built-in advantages than as a governing blueprint for the next year.
He sprinkled his remarks with anecdotes and shout-outs to key cities in election battlegrounds, from Raleigh to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee to Cleveland. He hit back against GOP attacks on an array of foreign and domestic policy areas — declaring victory on the auto bailout and his overhauls of health care and Wall Street regulations.
Obama’s tone during his address to Congress was a stark contrast to the more centrist persona he had cultivated in previous months. As Chris Cillizza explained:
At first listen, President Obama’s State of the Union address had all the hallmarks of the sort of bipartisan, let’s-do-the-right-thing-for-America tone that characterized his 2008 presidential campaign.
But, listen closer and a more hard-edged, challenging tone reveals itself— a preview of what the incumbent will likely sound like as he seeks a second term this November.
“We’ve come too far to turn back now,” said Obama at one point. “As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”
Later, he offered an even more blunt challenge: “With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow.” He also repeatedly urged Congress to “send me a bill”, making clear that the ball, legislatively and politically, was in their court.