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Obama's State of the Union an attempt to reconnect

WASHINGTON - Seizing a chance to reconnect, President Barack Obama will use his first State of the Union address to try to persuade the people of a frustrated nation he's on their side, with a familiar-sounding agenda recast to relate better to everyday struggles.

In a time of deep economic insecurity, Obama will use this stage on Wednesday to offer hope after a grueling, grinding first year of his presidency, aides say. For the many who think the United States is still on the wrong track, Obama will attempt to present a clearer sense of how everything he's pursuing fits together to help.

And for jittery Democrats facing re-election this fall, Obama will seek to give them an agenda they can sell to voters. Obama will propose ways to help the middle class. But any new ideas probably will play a supporting role to the plainspoken story he wants to tell, that his agenda works for people despite their growing doubts.

What to expect in the speech, which comes during a rocky period for Obama? Heavy doses of health care - despite the setbacks of the past week - and job creation. Obama will address the budget deficit, his bid to take on the financial industry, energy, education and immigration. All those issues, he says, fit into his plan to rebuild the economy.

On national security, he will address terrorist threats, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and nuclear disputes with Iran and North Korea.

Recent big events won't escape notice, such as the crisis in Haiti and the Supreme Court ruling allowing businesses and labor unions more power to influence elections.

Obama will directly confront a seething frustration with Washington, evident in Republican Scott Brown's Senate victory in Massachusetts that rattled Democrats and cost Obama the voting bloc he needed in the Senate.

It all points to the message the president wants to convey: Yes, I get it. Obama is emerging from a year in Washington that, he now says, has left the public with a sense of "remoteness and detachment" from what he's been trying to do.

The president says his agenda is not about him. But in important ways, this speech will be.

Moments like this are opportunities for presidents to take or lose command. Obama's poll numbers on how he handles major issues have been dropping; less than half the people support his management of the economy, taxes and other issues. Unemployment is in double digits and terrorism fears are rising.

To regain his footing, Obama is putting himself on the side of the people, challenging special interests on health care and banking and reminding people that while he got an economic stimulus plan through, he bailed out Wall Street and the auto industry only by necessity.

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