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Questions remain after Obama's State of the Union speech

President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall

President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall style meeting at the University of Tampa's Bob Martinez Sports Center in Tampa, Fla. (Jan. 28, 2010) Credit: AP

After the theatrics and the rhetoric and the canned responses, two questions remain from President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address: Did he succeed in persuading nervous Democrats not to cut and run on his presidency; and will he succeed in making Republicans think twice about their united opposition to almost all things Obama?

Those were certainly the underlying objectives of Obama's speech Wednesday night. He needed to stiffen the spines of Democrats, who are justifiably worried about surviving the wrath of a disgruntled electorate in November. He wanted to challenge Republicans by warning that voters may hold them as responsible as Democrats for the breakdown of functioning government in Washington. And he needed to reconnect with the voters after a year in which he became a virtual prisoner of the machinations on Capitol Hill.

The State of the Union speech is a president's best opportunity to speak to the country, and there was much in Obama's address aimed at all Americans. His concentration on jobs and the economy was a tardy admission that he and the Democrats had become so consumed with health care that they had taken their focus off the main worry of average families and paid a political price for that lapse.

His proposals spanned the ideological spectrum to lock in on disparate groups of voters: more tax cuts for small business; more nuclear power plants and offshore drilling for conservatives; more education spending for suburban families; a spending freeze for deficit hawks; a renewed pledge to end "don't ask, don't tell" for the left. And, for anyone willing to listen, there was the promise to keep fighting for health care.

White House officials, looking at their post-speech analysis and the instant polls, concluded that Obama had helped his cause, particularly with independent voters. Advisers saw the speech as a circuit breaker after the tumult of the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts and, at least temporarily, something that will bring Democrats back together as they start the election year.

The key to this is what Obama does next. What was most striking about Wednesday's speech was the long closing section on the country's broken politics, delivered to a hushed chamber. This was Obama seeking to regain the footing of his successful campaign, this time as a chastened leader rather than the rock-star politician who swept into national consciousness with such clarity of voice and vision.

It was almost as if he were speaking to himself as he closed out his speech. "I campaigned on the promise of change - change we can believe in, the slogan went," he said. "And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change - or that I can deliver it."

That is the challenge he faces, the core issue one year into his presidency. Can he deliver?

>> Obama's proposals
>> Republican response
>> Full transcript of the State of the Union Address
>> Poll: What did you like best?
>> Obama's five challenges
>> Michelle Obama's look on Wednesday night
>> Complete coverage: Obama's 2010 State of the Union address

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