Obama wants all Americans, and especially persuadable voters, to listen carefully to his arguments Tuesday. More than many presidents, Obama has earned kudos for well-received speeches, and the State of the Union address, delivered live and in front of lawmakers, is a rite of prime-time oratory that will visually remind Americans of Obama’s recent hand-to-hand combat with the legislative branch.

After three years in office, the president will say America’s dwindling middle class is at a critical turning point in which they are either at the mercy of Republicans who favor “less opportunity and less fairness,” or are led by his vision for a stronger, more equitable economy in 2012 and beyond.

He will say “fairness for all” and American “values” mean offering incentives to encourage companies to keep manufacturing, services and opportunities from migrating abroad; supporting training and education for skilled workers in the United States; creating a tax code that rewards the middle class and asks the wealthiest Americans to pay more; and supporting alternative energy policies that also create new jobs while weaning the country from dependency on oil.

To make a case that he is correct and Republicans are wrong, Obama plans to use his address to replay his record of achievement, to explain why more economic progress has been slow to materialize on his watch (i.e., congressional obstruction, events beyond his control, a cautious private sector), and to contrast his second-term agenda with policies espoused by Mitt Romney and other GOP contenders who want his job.

The White House and Obama’s campaign advisers have worked overtime in the last five days to blend previews of the president’s speech with suspense-building teasers and social media entreaties designed to stoke interest in Obama’s address, especially amid competing coverage of the Republican presidential contests. The president attracted 48 million viewers for his first State of the Union address, and 43 million for his second, according to the Nielsen ratings.

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