Obama to lay out economic vision in SOTU

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

President Barack Obama will make perhaps his highest profile case for reelection Tuesday, delivering a State of the Union address that will lay out a populist economic agenda he hopes will connect with middle-class voters.

It is Mr. Obama's third State of the Union address and comes at a time when the country, and Congress in particular, remains highly polarized. And with the president a constant target of Republican presidential hopefuls, the White House knows just how high the stakes are with the speech that will be watched by tens of millions of Americans, reports Norah O'Donnell. (Watch O'Donnell's full preview above.)

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The theme of the address will be "An America built to last" and will focus heavily on the economy, featuring the themes of manufacturing, clean energy, education and American values. Mr. Obama will also continue to make his case for raising taxes on wealthy Americans.

CBS television and CBSNews.com will have live coverage of the State of the Union address, and the Republicans' response, tonight beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Mr. Obama will frame the campaign to come as a fight for fairness for those who are struggling to keep a job, a home or college savings and losing faith in how the country works.

For three days following his speech, Mr. Obama will promote his ideas in five states key to his re-election bid. On Wednesday he'll visit Iowa and Arizona to promote ideas to boost American manufacturing; on Thursday in Nevada and Colorado he'll discuss energy; and in Michigan Friday he'll talk about college affordability, education and training. Polling shows Americans are divided about Mr. Obama's overall job performance but unsatisfied with his handling of the economy.

(Watch White House senior adviser David Plouffe discuss the president's goals for the State of the Union address.)

With joblessness still high at 8.5 percent, Mr. Obama's task of persuading voters to stick with him will be tricky. Mr. Obama can point to positive signs, including continued if sluggish growth; his argument will be that he is the one to restore economic equality for middle-class voters.

Implicit in the argument, even if he never names Republican presidential frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, is that they are on the other side. Mr. Obama's speech will come as Gingrich and Romney have transformed the Republican campaign into a real contest ahead of Florida's crucial primary next week. And he'll be speaking on the same day that Romney, a multimillionaire, released his tax returns, offering a vivid illustration of wealth that could play into Mr. Obama's argument about the growing divide between rich and poor.

The lines of argument between Obama and his rivals are already stark, with America's economic insecurity and the role of government at the center.

The president has offered signals about his speech, telling campaign supporters he wants an economy "that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few." Gingrich, on the other hand, calls Mr. Obama "the most effective food stamp president in history." Romney says Mr. Obama "wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society."

(Rep. Paul Ryan talks about how the president's rhetoric "doesn't quite meet the substance.")

Mr. Obama will make bipartisan overtures to lawmakers but will leave little doubt he will act without their help when it's necessary and possible, an approach his aides say has let him stay on offense.

The public is more concerned about domestic troubles over foreign policy than at any other time in the past 15 years, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Some 81 percent want Mr. Obama to focus his speech on domestic affairs, not foreign ones; just five years ago, the view was evenly split.

On the day before Mr. Obama's speech, his campaign released a short Web ad showing monthly job losses during the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration, with positive job growth for nearly two Obama years. Republicans assail him for failing to achieve a lot more.

House Speaker John Boehner, responding to reports of Mr. Obama's speech themes, said it was a rehash of unhelpful policies. "It's pathetic," he said.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Mr. Obama is not conceding the next 10 months to "campaigning alone" when people need economic help. On the goals of helping people get a fair shot, Carney said, "There's ample room within those boundaries for bipartisan cooperation and for getting this done."

For a State of the Union preview as spelled out by CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell in a discussion with "CBS This Morning" co-hosts Charlie Rose and Erica Hill, click on the video above.