'World News' Political Insights: Obama Rides Momentum into Speech

The new political tone will be tested by president's push for new spending.

ByABC News
January 23, 2011, 4:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2011 -- It's time for a State of the Union address that wouldn't have sounded the same three months ago -- and wouldn't have looked the same three weeks ago.

The midpoint of President Obama's first term is a clear inflection point. It's the first State of the Union the president will deliver with a Republican House speaker over his shoulder, and it comes as political attention starts to flow to the 2012 campaign.

It won't just be the presence of House Speaker John Boehner that will make the address look different from any similar speech in recent memory. Scores of Democrats and Republicans will be sitting next to each other, in a nod to the tragedy in Tucson that sparked a new discussion about the tone of politics.

It's largely to Obama's benefit that the chatter is more likely to be about the seating plan than the new balance of power in Washington. But don't count on it lasting much beyond Tuesday night.

Despite the electoral "shellacking" in November, Obama comes into the speech riding some momentum. His poll numbers have bounced back, and he took some unlikely victories in the lame-duck session of Congress and carried them into a new year that's brought a new tone from the White House.

The White House's latest turn toward job creation -- remembering that there have been similar pivots that haven't had staying power -- includes a series of personnel and policy moves that have been applauded by Republicans.

But the president will also use his speech to make a case for targeted spending in areas including education and economic development -- a tough sell in Congress, and pretty close to a non-starter among the Republicans who just took control of one chamber on Capitol Hill.

"With all due respect to our Democratic friends, any time they want to spend, they call it 'investment,'" Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on "Fox News Sunday." "This is not a time to be looking at pumping up government spending in very many areas."

Obama's efforts to expand "investments" will come up against a wall of GOP opposition. Republican leaders have committed to moving in the opposite direction, and are just as comfortable making their case to the public as the president is making his.