President Barack Obama will seek to rally his divided nation and his own compromised political prospects in his ritual State of the Union address.
Obama will step up in the House of Representatives at 9pm on Tuesday (1pm AEDT on Wednesday), wielding the issue of economic inequality as a cudgel against the Republicans holding his second term hostage.
White House aides say Obama will be “optimistic” and “ambitious” in the speech to lawmakers, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and military top brass, which is sure to include multiple, choreographed standing ovations.
But beyond the spin – and despite signs of faster growth in a still wounded economy – the president has little to cheer going into his sixth year in office.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found Obama’s approval rating stood at 43 per cent, the worst level for any president apart from George W Bush, heading into his sixth year State of the Union address since World War II.
Twelve disastrous months after Obama delivered an inaugural address bursting with liberal ambition, six in ten of those asked said they were uncertain, worried or pessimistic about what he will do in his last three years in office.
Obama’s reputation was scarred by a botched roll out of his signature health care law, budget clashes with Republicans and perceived missteps abroad.
But he will try to seize the chance on Tuesday to recapture momentum and to chart the early going for mid-term elections in November, in which his Democrats are in danger of losing the Senate.