It is the second big speech of his presidency's second act, but there is little or nothing to suggest President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address offers any hope of a new beginning or a new spirit in divided Washington.
Consider the vast partisan differences in expectations.
"Obama core supporters are getting what they hoped for in 2009," says veteran Democratic pollster and strategist Peter Hart. "He is a president who seems both more confident and at the same time at home with himself both legislatively and philosophically."
If there is one certainty in today's political climate, it is that when one party is happy, the other is not.
"Republicans should wear asbestos suits to the House chamber because they're going to be torched," said longtime GOP operative Ed Gillespie, a veteran of senior jobs in the House leadership, the Republican National Committee and the George W. Bush White House. "President Obama seems to think that the best way to get things done is not by retail persuasion but by wholesale attacking."
The president's wish list already has him on a collision course with the GOP on several fronts, from the familiar sniping over taxes and spending and red ink to new battle lines over White House calls for sweeping changes to immigration and gun laws.
Veterans of previous administration note the first year of the second term is critical.
"Of his second term, this is the one that will get the most attention," said Karen Hughes, the George W. Bush confidante. "This is the list of what he still wants to accomplish as president."
As such, Hughes said, the biggest challenge is focus.
"It was never my favorite speech because it is a legislative laundry list and everyone is trying to get their piece in," Hughes said.
Huge Challenge: How Will We Reduce the Deficit?
The biggest immediate challenge is a carryover from the first term: Navigating differences over how to achieve a substantial deficit reduction package. A March 1 deadline looms when temporary fixes enacted in the first term essentially expire and across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration loom if no new plan is passed.
"The economy still languishes and the obvious threat is sequestration, which is omnipresent," is how Hart described the moment to CNN. "But I think the president can look presidential and put the GOP between a rock and a hard place."
There is little doubt that the president has the upper hand in the battle for public opinion: what he calls a "balanced approach" of more tax revenues and spending cuts including, again in the president's words, "modest" savings in Medicare and Social Security.
"I am prepared, eager and anxious to get a big deal, a big package that ends governance by crisis," the president told House Democrats this week in offering a bit of a State of the Union preview.
But there is no hint of any big deal in sight, and the president himself has called for another temporary fix to push the deadline back a few months.
It is a glaring example of Washington dysfunction, and the longer the stalemate goes on, the more extremes in both parties try to block the path to any grand bargain.
Conservative groups, for example, warn of retribution against Republicans who consider giving the president any additional tax revenues, and liberal groups repeatedly are reminding newly elected Democrats of their promises not to support Medicare cuts.
As this plays out, again, White House aides talk confidently of the president's place in the political debate.
But even in "winning," there could be a price.
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