President Obama's State of the Union speech is winning praise from some independent voters, who had been drifting away from the president — pushing his approval rating to a new low — before the speech.
His focus on job creation and calls for bipartisanship Wednesday night may have given Obama a second chance with independents. Ultimately, though, he'll be judged not by his words but by whether his administration can produce results.
Ron Kesterson says he didn't vote for Obama. But the retired engineer from South Carolina was willing to give the new president a chance. Kesterson's approval of Obama was on shaky ground by the time he took part in an NPR political poll last week. But the Republican says Obama's standing improved somewhat with last night's address to the nation.
"I thought it was a good speech. I wouldn't say it was a great one. I think he realized and vocalized the issue that people have with the economy as being the No. 1 priority."
Obama devoted much of his hour-plus speech to the economy, outlining a number of proposals designed to encourage job growth. He didn't abandon other parts of his agenda, though. That pleased Jack Rossin, a Democratic marketing consultant from Massachusetts.
"I thought he took the argument to the Congress a little more forcefully than he has done in the past," Rossin said.
Rossin's been frustrated by the inability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work together. "Both sides are playing the obstructionist game," he said. "They've 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."
Now that Democrats have lost their supermajority in the Senate, 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 that is less persuasive than when Obama was on the campaign trail.
"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 wasn't president and rather to remind voters what he'd set out to do and what the obstacles were to making that change happen."
Schnur, who directs the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, says he doesn't think Obama has shifted to the center of the political spectrum, the way Bill Clinton did after losing Democratic majorities in Congress. But Schnur does sense a reordering of priorities, with health care falling to a distant second.
"It didn't 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. I'm willing to try again. But if you've got something better, let me know.' That's not exactly a stirring call to arms."
Obama also gave new weight to deficit reduction in his speech. Diane Lim Rogers, who writes the blog EconomistMom.com, gives the president some credit for his partial-spending-freeze proposal. But she complains he is not doing enough to prepare people for the spending cuts and tax hikes that will eventually be needed.
"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."
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg says the president's speech helped him with skeptical swing voters. In focus groups after the speech, those voters expressed stronger approval for Obama's goals and his leadership, though Greenberg says they're still not sure whether he can actually deliver.
"The big question is will he succeed. They're hoping for him. They're rooting for him. But the big question is can he succeed."
That's a question that will take more than a speech to answer.