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State of Union focus: Jobs, competitiveness

WASHINGTON - Under pressure to energize the economy, President Barack Obama will put job creation and American competitiveness at the center of his State of the Union address, promoting spending on education and research while pledging to trim the nation's soaring debt.

Obama hopes this framework will woo some Republican cooperation as he searches for success in a divided Congress and will start to sway a wary private sector to hire and spend money it's held back.

The economy is on firmer footing than when he took office two years ago. So his emphasis on competitiveness signals a shift from policies of short-term stabilization to ones geared toward steady and long-term growth.

Obama will speak to a Congress shaken by the attempted assassination of one of their own, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz.

The president has appealed for more civility in politics, and in a nod to that ideal, some Democrats and Republicans will break with tradition and sit with each other in the House chamber Tuesday night during the joint session of Congress.

White House aides have not said much about any specific presidential proposals. Obama has offered hints, however.

In a recent speech in North Carolina, Obama said making the United States more competitive means being willing to invest in a more educated workforce, commit more to research and technology, and improve everything from roads and airports to high-speed Internet.

"Those are the seeds of economic growth in the 21st century. Where they are planted, the most jobs and businesses will take root," Obama said.

The state of the economy will greatly influence Obama's re-election prospects in 2012, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president will devote most of his nationally televised address to his vision for extending the economic recovery.

More than half of those questioned in a new Associated Press-GfK poll disapproved of how he's handled the economy, and just 35 percent said it's improved on his watch. Still, three-quarters of those surveyed did say it's unrealistic to expect noticeable improvements after two years.

Obama's challenge will be to find the money and political will to spend it, even as he's pledged to reduce spending and tackle the nation's mounting debt. Aides say the president is reviewing the recommendations of his bipartisanship fiscal commission and will emphasize cost-cutting measures.

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