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GOP: Jobs, Economy a Good Start for Union Speech, but Obama Must Talk Compromise

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Friday: President Obama smiles at a town hall meeting at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio. (AP Photo)

Jobs and the economy are big themes in Wednesday's State of the Union address, as President Obama prepares to strike a populist tone to defend his first year in office and remind American voters once more that his administration inherited an economic crisis.

But Republicans are also warning the president to take cues from the message sent by Massachusetts voters last week who elected Republican candidate Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate.

"The American people are saying we want to go in a different direction. I hope the president will get the message and change direction and we'll get to see that next Wednesday night," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Expected in the president's first State of the Union address are echoes of his speech delivered Friday in Ohio in which Obama discussed the need to make the economy work for all Americans. That includes calls for including tax breaks for small businesses to hire and for Americans to make their homes more energy efficient, two items not itemized in the House Democrats' $174 billion jobs package that passed in December.

"You'll hear in the State of the Union, some of his ideas about additional steps that we can take to help create and stir hiring around the country," said chief political adviser David Axelrod.

Americans can also expect the president to hearken back to his campaign themes of changing the way Washington works.

"What you're going to hear from the president is the same thing you heard from him over the past several years," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on "Fox News Sunday." "And that is that for far too long people in this country felt like Washington was about the special interests and not about them."

Axelrod said the president wants to make the "economy work for all Americans and not just for a fortunate few." He added that acting responsibly -- whether in Washington or on Wall Street -- is a priority for voters.

Republicans say they are hoping the president also takes their concerns into account.

"If the president wants to govern in the middle there will be Republicans there to meet him, McConnell said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., suggested the president got the message from last week's Massachusetts vote.

"I think the biggest takeaway from Massachusetts, however, is that there is enormous economic angst in the country, there are people who have lost their jobs, they have a family member who's lost their jobs, their house is worth less than what their mortgage is, and that was, I believe, a driving force of the voters in that state, and it exists across the country," Menendez said.

Axelrod also looked to the Massachusetts Senate race to draw connections to the president. 

"I think that, you know, in Washington, people look for signs, cues for their script to say, oh, you know, here's Obama 2.0. This is Obama -- this is the Obama who ran for president,' he said. "The themes that he talked about in that campaign were very much echoed by Senator Brown in his campaign, which tells you that the hunger for that kind of leadership is still very strong."

On Friday, Obama sought to show he understands the plight of the working class.

"Folks have seen jobs you thought would last forever disappear. You've seen plants close and businesses shut down," Obama said at a town hall in Elyria, Ohio. "I've heard about how the city government here is bare bones. And how you can't get to work or go buy groceries like you used to because of cuts in the county transit system."

Menendez suggested one area where Republicans have the opportunity to work with the president -- creating legislation to help small businesses get the resources they need to grow and to hire people.

"I hope Republicans will join us in meeting the economic challenges instead of just simply saying 'no.' 'No' doesn't create a job and 'no' doesn't give health care to anybody or stop the insurance companies from arbitrarily and capriciously denying people," he told CNN.

But the senator's suggestions for improving the economy include setting aside billions for infrastructure work and aid to states and localities, similar to provisions in the $787 billion stimulus plan passed nearly a year ago that Republicans strongly opposed.

Supporters of the stimulus say it has meant fewer job losses than what would have happened had the recovery package not been passed.

"Just last quarter, we finally saw the first positive economic job growth in more than a year, largely as a result of the recovery plan that's put money back into our economy, that saved or created 1.5 million jobs," Gibbs said.

"If you look at where we have gone, from losing 741,000 jobs to on the verge of creating more jobs, we've made a tremendous amount of progress. The hole we inherit and the hole that we have to fill is very, very deep," he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said higher taxes, more regulation, new entitlement programs, increased borrowing and higher debt prompted Massachusetts voters and will motivate others in November.

He warned that if the president is tone deaf on the message from the Bay State, he won't hear that "the uncertainty of this administration's policies are killing jobs and making it harder for the average American worker."

"I think (Obama)'s got an opportunity to do a mid-course correction as a result of the message sent out of Massachusetts and around the country. I think if he did that, then he would have a good chance to have a successful first term as president," Cornyn told "Fox News Sunday."

"If he doesn't, if they persist along the same lines, stay the course, thinking it's a matter of tactics as opposed to the policy that are so unpopular, like health care, then I think he's not going to have a successful first term," he said.

McConnell said the president's new populist tone needs to include a bipartisan gesture. 

"He went hard left the first year. We'll see beginning Wednesday night where he intends to go the second year," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.