Obama Expected to Recast Presidency at State of the Union

President Obama's first year played out like a political version of Space Invaders, with the administration trying to shoot down all the advancing problems with a fusillade of rhetoric and policy proposals.

So when the president takes center stage for his first official State of the Union address on Wednesday, he will have that rare chance to define his presidency. He will be able to choose a theme, much as he did during his successful presidential campaign, and narrow down the list of priorities that cluttered his agenda in 2009.

While Obama has gotten Congress to vote his way on an impressive number of items, his big-ticket goals have largely gone unfulfilled, and recent high-profile Republican wins in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts underscore the distance voters have put between themselves and the president's party. Obama's approval rating now hovers at around 50 percent.

Going into year two, political strategists expect the president to re-center himself Wednesday as a hard-fighting, bank-busting, Obama-on-your-side jobs president, while acknowledging the hiccups in getting to this point.

At the State of the Union, the state of the presidency may be the question that most needs answering.

"It's going to be jobs, jobs, jobs. Economy, economy, economy," said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. "Year two's gonna be this guy."

The White House says the speech will center on job creation and fiscal responsibility, among other issues.

Obama appeared to preview the contents and tone of that speech with his remarks over the past week. Coming off the Democrats' loss in the Massachusetts Senate special election, the president pivoted to take on Wall Street, assuming a fiercely populist tone as he proposed extra layers of financial regulation. On Friday, during a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, he offered a fulsome defense of his administration's economic agenda -- ticking off the results of the stimulus package and his efforts to save the U.S. auto industry.

He called for new job creation measures, and on Monday he proposed doubling the child care tax credit for families earning under $85,000 and capping student loans payments.

"I did not run for president to turn away from these challenges. I didn't run to kick these challenges down the road. I ran for president to confront them -- once and for all," Obama said Friday.

The American people may need some reassuring, after Scott Brown's upset victory in Massachusetts sent Democrats into a frenzy to check the pulse of health care reform -- which up to that point seemed to be on the verge of passage. In the wake of Brown's win, Democrats acknowledge the bill cannot pass the House in its current form.

This leaves the president's signature domestic policy initiative, the mission the administration surely wanted to declare accomplished during Wednesday's address, on the ropes. How that initiative now fits into the president's broader, refocused economic agenda will certainly be a topic in the State of the Union.

Though White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is offering few details, some expect Obama to reach for genuine middle ground on the issue, particularly given the party's loss in Massachusetts.

"That's the moment for a grand presidential gesture, where he reaches out to Republicans and says, 'Let's do these five things,'" said Jeremy Mayer, public policy professor at George Mason University.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he expects Obama to take a somewhat conciliatory tone, as President Bill Clinton did in his State of the Union speech following the Republican blowout in the 1994 midterm elections.

"(Clinton) actually worked very closely with Newt Gingrich. They had almost a bipartisan government for a couple years," Giuliani said. "Whether (Obama's) capable of doing that, we will find out. If he's not, I don't see any way in which we don't see a repeat of the last three elections ... in November."

Gibbs said last week that Obama will "undoubtedly" address the results of the Massachusetts election in his speech. Obama on Friday acknowledged health care talks hit a "little bit of a buzz saw."

But he and his advisers have made clear that they have no plans to shelve health care reform. "I'm not going to walk away just because it's hard," Obama said Friday.

The stalling of health care reform was just the latest blow to the Obama administration.

Obama failed to meet his one-year deadline to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center; Iran did not meet his administration's one-year deadline to pull back on its nuclear program; the future of energy legislation is uncertain, though it passed the House last summer; the Middle East peace process has not advanced measurably; and the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas and the Fort Hood massacre exposed shortcomings in the ability of the national security infrastructure to flag potentially dangerous individuals.

And despite campaigning for the Democratic candidates in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, and in the Massachusetts Senate race, Obama's party lost all three of those races -- plus the president was unable to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago, losing that bid to Rio de Janeiro during the host-city selection in Copenhagen.

Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said that while the administration has notched several accomplishments, it has been dealing with a crisis overload. The months-long review of the Afghanistan war strategy over the summer and fall was another drain on the administration's time and attention.

"I don't envy them. He walked into the presidency and they've been drinking out of a fire hose for a year," Marsh said. "They've done many, many things well. The problem is the thing people are focused on more than anything is -- Do I have a job?"

Obama, in an interview with ABC News last week, said his full plate distracted from his ability to convey his agenda to the American people.

"If there's one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values," he said. "And that I do think is a mistake of mine."

He also told Time magazine he overestimated the administration's ability to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to peace talks.

Obama's own second-guessing doesn't mean he's trying to start his second year with a clean slate -- at least, according to his advisers.

Asked Monday if the president is hitting the "reset" button, Gibbs said, "No."

FoxNews.com's Judson Berger contributed to this report.