By Sam Youngman - 01/24/11 11:04 AM EST
When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to Congress, it will mark the culmination of a transformation the White House hopes will lead to a second term in 2012.
Obama and his aides began positioning the president as more business-friendly and centrist months ago, and the White House intends to build on that effort when he addresses the country and a divided Congress on Tuesday.
As measured by several polls, Obama has seen his political health strengthen since November, when his party suffered what the president described as a midterm shellacking by Republicans.
And Obama and his aides are clearly trying to seize on the momentum they're enjoying and what they feel is a strong State of the Union message.
Beyond the poll numbers, the White House also has seen measurable improvement in the economy, and hopes to use Tuesday's address as a pivot point to present itself as working with both parties to lower the nation's stubborn jobless rate, which remains the greatest danger to a second term for Obama.
In a message to supporters on Saturday, Obama gave a bit of a preview of the remarks Congress can expect at the State of the Union.
"An economy that was shrinking is now growing again," Obama said in the video. "We've created more than a million jobs over the last year. The stock market is back up and corporate profits are healthy again. So we've made progress, but as all of you know, from talking to friends and neighbors, seeing what's happening in your communicates, we've got a lot more work to do."
Obama also addressed the theme Friday in Schenectady, N.Y., where he announced General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt would lead a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
The president said the past two years have been about pulling the economy from the brink. “The next two years, our job now, is to put our economy in overdrive,” Obama said.
White House aides say the State of the Union caps off a gradual shift that began with the president's remarks in Winston-Salem, N.C., in early December.
There, Obama acknowledged that the recovery “is simply not happening fast enough,” and warned that on the global stage, “America is in danger of falling behind.
“And at this moment, the most important contest we face is not between Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said. “It's between America and our economic competitors all around the world. That’s the competition we’ve got to spend time thinking about.”
When the president returned to Washington that night, he cut a deal with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRepublicans make M investment in Senate races Pelosi urges end to Pentagon's clawback of soldier overpayments Coffman’s stance on climate change disingenuous, irresponsible MORE (Ky.) extending tax cuts for the rich that Obama had said he would end as president.
Yet the package also included concessions from Republicans that the White House has argued amount to the largest stimulus package Obama could hope to win from a GOP-led Congress.
The White House also hopes the State of the Union will highlight staff changes meant to present the administration as more business-friendly.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel departed in late October, and chief economic adviser Larry Summers was on his way back to Harvard. In their place, former Commerce Secretary William Daley and Gene Sperling have been brought on board. Daley’s hiring in particular has been praised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and it sent a signal to business that Obama was seeking a more productive relationship.
After two intensely productive years in office that cost Democrats a majority in the House, Obama is playing defense on the policies he put in place while at the same time promoting the image of a White House working around the clock to create jobs.
He is expected to devote a large portion of his address Tuesday to policies where there is ground for him to work with Republicans.
Tax reform, deficit reduction and trade are all subjects the president is eager to discuss on Tuesday, and since the election, the White House has taken steps in all three areas to signal its seriousness.
On tax reform, the Treasury Department has begun talks with finance officers from corporations about what reforms could be made to make them more competitive.
Obama finalized a trade deal with South Korea in December that brought cheers from business groups and even some labor unions. The president will ask Congress to approve it in his address on Tuesday.
On the deficit, Obama has called for a freeze on federal worker pay while complimenting Republicans for embracing earmark reforms.
The White House wants to create more momentum for Obama on Tuesday, and has already laid out its plans to seize on it.
Obama will travel to the swing state of Wisconsin on Wednesday to begin selling his new theme of "Winning the Future," and senior administration officials will launch a campaign-style social-media effort to capitalize.
That effort includes an online question-and-answer session with senior officials and Vice President Biden and, on Thursday on YouTube, a session with Obama.