News / USA

Obama at Political Turning Point as Major Speech Draws Near



U.S. President Barack Obama appears to be at a political turning point as he prepares to deliver the annual State of the Union Address on Wednesday before a Joint Session of Congress and a national television audience.  The recent Republican victory in the special Senate election in the heavily Democratic northeastern U.S. state of Massachusetts underscores a shifting political landscape for the president, far different from the high poll numbers and expectations when he came into office one year ago. 

One year after taking office, public opinion polls tell the story of voters having some serious doubts about the 44th president.

Barack Obama's signature health-care-reform plan is stalled in Congress amid declining public support.  The president remains personally popular with voters, but increasingly Americans disapprove of his policies, finding them either too costly or ineffective.

Republicans have found new momentum after last week's stunning upset in the Massachusetts Senate election and are eagerly looking forward to picking up congressional seats in November's midterm elections.

With all of this as backdrop, President Obama returned to campaign mode during a recent visit to Ohio, hoping to strike a more combative tone on behalf of middle class voters.

"I want you to understand, this not about me.  This is not about me," he said. "This is about you!"

Mr. Obama's best opportunity to hit the political reset button will come Wednesday when he delivers the annual State of the Union address before Congress and a national television audience.  It is expected the president will focus on finding ways to help middle-class families in their daily economic struggles.

Many of Mr. Obama's Democratic supporters say the president needs to find a way to pass some sort of health-care plan quickly and then focus on the economy and jobs, which the polls say are the voters' top concerns.

Republicans say the Massachusetts result should also be taken as a sign that voters want the president to reach out to the opposition to find common ground on health care, the economy and other issues.

"The president made a decision to go hard-left," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell who spoke on NBC's 'Meet the Press' program.  "That is why he does not have many of my members.  If he chooses to govern in the middle, I think he will have much broader cooperation from Republicans."

To some extent that was the course then-president Bill Clinton chose after the 1994 congressional elections when Republicans won control of both the Senate and House of Representatives.

"I think he is going to continue to have to work, where he can, at trying to reach out, trying to bridge divides, reaching out to independents, finding issues that he can work with Republicans on, especially an issue like reducing the deficit," said Matt Dallek, a political historian with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Analysts also see the president's current troubles as a test of whether he can recapture the kind of public support he enjoyed during his presidential run in 2008.

"A lot of people including a lot of Democrats think he has gotten too detached and too aloof," said longtime political commentator Tom DeFrank, a guest on VOA's 'Issues in the News' program. "The people need to feel like he is in touch with their pain, with their angst, with what is happening to them in their lives, and he cannot just be a professor."

Experts say it will be important for the president in the State of the Union address to lay out how he will pursue his political agenda in Congress in light of the Republican victory in Massachusetts.  That victory came on the heels of Republican wins in governor's races last November in New Jersey and Virginia, and all three races showed declining support for the president and his priorities among independent voters.

Mr. Obama and his agenda will be central issues in the November congressional elections, says University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato.

"It almost always is about the incumbent president," he said. "We used to have a patchwork of local contests in midterm elections.  The last time that happened was really 1990.  It has not happened since and I do not think it is going to happen in 2010."

A lot of experts see some similarities between Mr. Obama's political challenges and those of former President Ronald Reagan during his first term in office.

Mr. Reagan dealt with a weak economy, high unemployment and poor poll ratings early in his term, says historian Matt Dallek.

"During the recession of 1982, the Republicans lost well over 20 seats in Congress in the midterm elections.  And yet Reagan obviously in 1984 won a landslide re-election victory," he said. "So I think these things can shift very quickly."

Most experts predict Republicans will gain 20 to 30 seats in the House in November, but that estimate could grow until the Democrat's current 40 seat margin is threatened.  It is also expected Republicans will make some gains in the Senate, where Democrats will hold a 59 to 41 seat edge once Republican Scott Brown occupies his seat from Massachusetts.  

You May Like

Video Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs