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Obama seeks to dominate with key speech


A reinvigorated US President Barack Obama seeks to solidify a reshaped image as a builder of compromise and promise an intense job building drive in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Obama will step up at 9:00 pm (0200 GMT) in the House of Representatives for a speech which could define his battle with newly empowered Republicans, as the 2012 presidential race begins to stir.

The annual showpiece, with its repeated ritual standing ovations, offers a president a rare chance to set the political narrative by speaking directly to voters in a way the fractured media climate rarely allows.

Obama previewed this year's speech in a web video sent to members of his grassroots political network.

"My number one focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are creating jobs not just now but well into the future -- that is going to be the main topic of the State of the Union," Obama said.

Obama is riding new momentum after slowing Republicans following their mid-term election triumph and tracking towards the center ground and the independent voters he needs to win for re-election.

His approval ratings which suffered amid the grinding economic crisis, have ticked up to the low 50s as he begins to plot his re-election bid.

Obama also made his most direct connection with Americans yet, when his soaring call for civility stilled a row sparked by an Arizona shooting rampage.

Although the economic recovery is speeding up, many Americans are still struggling, with unemployment at 9.4 percent -- a potential area of political liability for Obama.

"Jobs will be the centerpiece of his speech," said Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann.

"While (Obama) has no single magic bullet, he will talk about the many ways he hopes to foster economic growth and job creation."

Obama is also expected to address America's huge deficit in an effort to define the budget and debt debate looming with the Republican-led House.

He is also sure to note that he is on track to fulfill a campaign promise to pull US troops out of Iraq by the end of this year and defend his historic health care law from Republican repeal attempts.

And Obama will likely frame key aspects of his foreign policy -- engaging China, his trip last year to India and a free trade pact with South Korea -- as evidence of a focus on job and export creation.

His calls will be couched in a call for bipartisanship, in a nod to the Democratic loss in mid-term elections in November.

Obama has recently returned to the kind of post-partisan rhetoric that helped power his early appeal as a presidential candidate.

"These are big challenges that are in front of us, but we are up to it as long as we come together as a people, Republicans, Democrats, independents," he said in the video.

"As long as we focus on what binds us together as people, as long as we are willing to find common ground even as we are having some very vigorous debates."

Obama is likely to also offer some humility to voters in the wake of the Democratic loss of the House and narrowed majority in the Senate.

He may turn for inspiration to Bill Clinton's State of the Union address in 1995, after congressional Republicans grabbed power in a mid-term rout.

Clinton told voters he had heard them, but reminded Republicans he had his own mandate from the previous presidential election, setting the stage for a political recovery.

"If we agree on nothing else tonight, we must agree that the American people certainly voted for change in 1992 and in 1994," Clinton said.

Obama may seek common ground with Republicans on education reform and trade or on reforming the tax code, and highlight his recent attempts to repair a poor relationship with big business.

Presidents are required by the Constitution to report to Congress on the state of the nation "from time to time."

In the television age, the speech is the president's most important annual set-piece speech, stuffed with legislative initiatives.

In their study of presidential rhetoric, "Deeds Done in Words," authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell say the address casts presidents "in the role of national historian, (with) the opportunity to reconstruct the past in order to forge the future.

"Eloquent presidents have seized the opportunity to reshape reality and to imprint that conception on the mind of the nation."

But the speech rarely transforms political fortunes: a Gallup analysis found it rarely moved a president's rating in a positive direction.