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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Address Wins Broad Praise

President Obama’s first address to Congress was exceptionally well-received, according to opinion polls, focus groups and reportage across the country. For a good round-up of opinion polls and focus groups, check Pollster.com, where Mark Blumenthal cites a CBS News poll which found that 79 percent of viewers approved of the President’s plans for “dealing with the economic crisis” — up from 62 percent before the speech. Additionally, Blumenthal cites a CNN poll showing 68 percent of speech-watchers with a “very positive reaction.”
Blumenthal also reports on a DCorps dial-group of speech-watchers, and quotes TDS co-editor Stan Greenberg’s observation “I’ve never seen anything like it. Republicans never went below 50 [on their dial ratings].”
While most newspapers dutifully quoted from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ho-hum rebuttal on behalf of the GOP as a concession to ‘balance,’ a quick survey of “second-tier” newspapers across the country suggests that Obama’s speech generally received a favorable reception from reporters and the public alike. For example, in Detroit, reeling from the meltdown like no other city, Obama’s address seems to have hit the mark. Todd Spangler reported in The Detroit Free Press :

Although not formally recognized as a State of the Union address because it came in the same year as his inauguration, the hour-long speech had all the makings of one and contained much of concern to Michiganders struggling with high foreclosure rates, plant closures and the highest jobless rate in the nation in December at 10.6%…The auto industry, he said, has been beset by “years of bad decision-making” and government shouldn’t protect the industry from “their own bad practices.” But he said it is too big an industry to fail…His commitment to the domestic auto industry is essential, said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

Miami Herald reporters Robert Samuels and Evan Benn had a man-on-the-street round-up, including:

At the Riverside Hotel on Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard, Rocco Norman watched Obama address the nation on television and said he was pleased to hear the president say he would fight corporate greed.
…”I’m a worker. Most everyone I know is a worker. And we’re scared for our jobs, while the CEOs keep getting bonuses? That isn’t right,” said Norman, 42, a law office assistant.
Obama’s remarks about the economy drew the attention of several Barry University students, who took time off from their studies to watch the address…”It rejuvenated the hope for me that our education system will be able to compete with the Chinese,” said Michael Whorley, an 18-year old freshman…’Usually, in economic turmoil, education is the first thing to go.

The Abilene Reporter-News featured AP white house correspondent Jennifer Loven’s wire report, which explained that the President’s address was more of a speech on domestic policy, but noted:

In contrast to many State of the Union addresses by George W. Bush, Obama did not emphasize foreign policy. He touched on his intention to chart new strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan and to forge a new image for the U.S. around the world even as he keeps up the fight against terrorism…He touted his decision to end the practice of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan war spending out of the main budget. “For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price,” Obama said.

The Portland Oregonian ran a well-titled editorial “More Braveheart, Less Cassandra,” which had this plaudit for the President:

The president, deprived by the electoral calendar of the chance to offer a true State of the Union speech this year, made the most of his opportunity to show America an air of confidence and competence. With stock indices down, job insecurity up, local governments planning service cuts and banks being seized weekly, nervousness has threatened to give way to panic. That’s why Obama sought to sound a reassuring note Tuesday night. And let’s face it, the president has a gift for persuasive rhetoric…Obama conveys the demeanor of a man who knows his history, can command attention and is mindful of peril. All of those qualities were on display Tuesday night.

The Omaha World-Herald went with a legislator round-up, “Reaction by the Midlands congressional delegation,” including the following observations:

Republican Senator Charless Grassley: “Beyond the policy debates, the President can do good by expressing confidence in the future and help to give Americans the fortitude we need to weather this economic crisis and come out of it stronger than we were before, as we have done time and again in our country’s 233-year history.”
Democratic Senator Tom Harkin: “The president’s economic recovery package, along with his plans for reducing foreclosures and stabilizing the financial system, will rebuild confidence and stop the downward dynamics in the economy. In the longer term, he is making investments that will restore growth and transform our approach to energy, health care, and education…he intends to move to rein in deficits once the economy recovers. The president made it clear, tonight, that he will continue tackling the fiscal and economic messes created in recent years with boldness and urgency. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen.

Up in New Hampshire, even The Manchester Union Leader published a fairly positive account of the President’s address to Congress, observing,

The central argument the President’s speech was that his still-unfolding economic revival plan has room for — and even demands — simultaneous action on a broad, expensive agenda including helping the millions without health insurance, improving education and switching the U.S. to greater dependence on alternative energy sources.
Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., called Obama’s speech “interesting and inspiring.” “Obama showed that even when we disagree, we can produce the best results when we engage in the process in good faith and he is forcing us to engage in a new way to govern,” Hodes said.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. said the speech was “very strong.” “The President made it very clear that addressing these spending issues is going to be a priority for him, and it’s certainly going to be a priority for me,” Gregg said in a written statement. “I believe that here in the Senate we have the opportunity to take some strong and decisive action in this area by trying to control the rate of growth of entitlement spending, and I am hopeful that the President will come forward with specific programs to accomplish that.”

In her Hotline After Dark post, Katherine Lehr quotes other GOP leaders making positive comments about the President’s speech, including Senators John Thune, Mitch McConnell and John McCain. She also quotes David Brooks calling it an “excellent speech,” which “perfectly captured the tenor of the country” and David Gergen calling Obama’s address the “most ambitious we have heard in this chamber in decades.”
We’ve become accustomed to excellent speeches by President Obama. It appears that this one has also served his strategy of building support outside the beltway, as well as in Congress.

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