MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand in California.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And Im Robert Siegel in Washington.
President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address here last night and its winning praise from some independent voters.
Before the speech, independents had been drifting away from the president, pushing his approval rating to a new low. His focus on job creation and calls for bipartisanship last night may have given Mr. Obama a second chance with independents.
But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports: words are one thing, results another.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Ron Kesterson says he didnt vote for Barack Obama, but the retired engineer from South Carolina was willing to give the new president a chance. Kesterson's approval of Mr. Obama was on shaky ground by the time he took part in an NPR political poll last week. But the Republican says Mr. Obama's standing improved somewhat with last night's address to the nation.
Mr. RON KESTERSON: I thought it was a good speech. I wouldnt say it was a great one. I think he realized and vocalized the issue that people have with the economy as being number the one priority.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama devoted much of his hour-plus speech to the economy, outlining a number of proposals designed to encourage job growth. He didnt abandon other parts of his agenda, though, and that pleased Jack Rossin, a Democratic marketing consultant from Massachusetts.
Mr. JACK ROSSIN (Democratic Marketing Consultant): I thought he took the argument to the Congress a little more forcefully than he has done in past.
HORSLEY: Rossin has been frustrated by the inability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work together.
Mr. ROSSIN: Both sides are playing the obstructionist game. Theyve got to find a way to all come together and work stuff out, instead of trying to obstruct each other. So I was particularly glad that he addressed that.
HORSLEY: Now that Democrats have lost their supermajority in the Senate, Mr. Obama says he wants to bring Republicans off the sidelines. He repeated his desire to change the way Washington works.
But Republican political analyst Dan Schnur says thats less persuasive now, than it was when Mr. Obama was on the campaign trail.
Mr. DAN SCHNUR (Director, Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, USC; Republican Political Analyst): It's always difficult to run as an outsider when you're president of the United States. And Obama's goal last night was less to pretend that he wasnt president, and rather to remind voters what he'd set out to do and what they obstacles were to making that change happen.
HORSLEY: Schnur, who directs the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, says he doesnt think Mr. Obama has shifted to the center of the political spectrum, the way Bill Clinton did after losing Democratic majorities in Congress. But he does sense a reordering of priorities, with health care falling to a distant second.
Mr. SCHNUR: It didnt seem like his heart was in it. The message that came out of the health care passages last night was I tried hard, I messed up, Im willing to try again. But if youve got something better, let me know. Thats not exactly a stirring call to arms.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also gave new way to deficit reduction in his speech last night. Deficit hawk, Diane Lim Rogers, who writes the blog EconomistMom.com, gives the president some credit for his partial spending freeze proposal. But she complains he's not doing enough to prepare people for the spending cuts and tax hikes that will eventually be needed.
Dr. DIANE LIM ROGERS (Economist, EconomistMom.com): I think that President Obama finds this issue a very difficult conversation to have with the American people. Until he gets over that and makes it his mission to level with the American people about it, he's not going to make any headway with the politicians.
HORSLEY: Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg thinks the president's speech helped him with skeptical swing voters. In focus groups after the speech, those voters expressed stronger approval for Mr. Obama's goals and his leadership, though Greenberg says they're still not sure if the president can actually deliver.
Mr. STAN GREENBERG (Democratic Pollster): The big question is, you know, will he succeed? I mean they're hoping for him. They're rooting for him. But the big question is can he succeed?
HORSLEY: And thats a question that will take more than a speech to answer.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.