January 28, 2010 / 6:51 AM / 10 years ago

Obama's big speech: did he get his groove back?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After a difficult first year as president, Barack Obama needed to reassert his leadership and take back control of the political agenda in his first State of the Union address on Wednesday.

It may take until November, when mid-term elections could change the balance of power in the Congress, to show whether he will have succeeded.

Obama put jobs and the economy squarely at the top of his agenda and challenged Democrats and Republicans to work together in a bid to save his struggling efforts to overhaul healthcare and address climate change.

Here is what he achieved and what he did not in the address:

*Identifying priorities. Still reeling from a vote in Massachusetts that cost his Democratic Party the Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy, Obama had to use his speech to show what part of his agenda he would stick with and what issues he was willing to give up.

With a laundry list of initiatives from global warming to immigration reform to financial regulation, Obama gave little indication that he has pared his list of policy priorities.

But he did give them an order. Creating jobs is No. 1. Everything else comes lower on the list.

He made clear he would continue to push for healthcare reform, his top domestic policy goal last year.

But he did not bring up the issue until the middle of his speech, illustrating the fact that creating jobs will take precedence on his to-do list.

* Admitting mistakes. Obama said he took some of the responsibility for not explaining his healthcare reform plans well enough to the American people.

He said his administration deserved some of the setbacks it had suffered and indicated he would hone his message moving forward.

On climate change, he said he was personally interested in advancing a bill that has stalled in the Senate. Obama has been criticized for not getting more involved in that issue sooner.

* Setting the tone. With a jocular tone that was sometimes humorous, sometimes defiant, Obama tried to show he had gotten his groove back despite recent political defeats.

* Revving up his base. By mentioning liberal causes such as ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, Obama gave red meat to left-leaning political supporters who have been disappointed about the results of his first year.

The president also made a renewed call for bipartisanship.

Lawmakers applauded more than 80 times during the speech, based on an informal Reuters tally.

* Playing down the wars. Remember the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? Obama does, but he didn’t bring them up until the last chunk of his address. Message: expect his administration to focus the next year almost entirely on the economy.

Editing by Chris Wilson and Simon Denyer

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